FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon quarterback Tyson Harley prefers to be direct. Whether with his throws, check downs or reads — and especially with his postgame assessments — the first-year starter doesn’t hold back.
He’s the first to describe the early part of his season under center as underwhelming. That’s a fact the junior won’t deny nor will he refute the numbers, but he’s not ignoring the benefit of experience either.
A transfer from New Palestine, Harley cut his teeth in the Southern Hancock County youth football leagues and has embraced his new opportunity with the Marauders, who are one win away from reaching the sectional finals for a second straight year.
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“It was tough starting varsity my first year. Honestly, there were jitters in the first half of the season,” Harley said. “But I got them out and we’re starting to get rolling on offense a little bit. We’re starting to turn it around here in the postseason.”
Compared to the first four weeks of the season, Harley and the Marauders’ passing offense have been night and day, and no more so than the past four games.
When the Marauders opened their 2017 campaign a disappointing 1-3, Harley threw nine interceptions compared to two touchdowns, while the offense averaged only nine points per game.
Since Week 5, however, both have found a rhythm, increasing their production to 19.2 points on average and winning back-to-back games, including a 30-14 win last week in the Class 4A Sectional 22 quarterfinals against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Shelbyville.
The Marauders (4-6) lost to the Golden Bears 35-28 during the regular season on Oct. 6.
“Film was a huge key to that. We looked over what we did against Shelbyville the first time we saw them, and we saw our flaws,” Mt. Vernon senior defensive back Robbie Campbell said. “We came out that whole week of practices and said, ‘we’re going to bite down and take them to the house.’ That’s what we did.”
Harley played a vital role with four touchdown passes and 186 yards on 15 completions as the Marauders avenged their previous setback.
“It’s a big timing thing and spreading it around to everyone,” Harley said. “I try to watch as much (film) as I can and pay attention to see if maybe there were other receivers open on the other side of the field that I missed or if I read the coverage wrong.
“Obviously, the beginning of the season was a struggle, so I kind of had to limit the tough throws and focus on the check downs.”
Harley’s maturity and development has resulted in better ratios. Over the past four weeks, he’s passed for 10 touchdowns and minimized risks with only four interceptions.
Against Yorktown in the regular-season finale, he had a season-best 318 yards passing on 19 completions. His four touchdowns against Shelbyville tied a season-high, which he initially posted in a 56-36 shootout loss on the road against New Castle on Sept. 30.
On the season, Harley has amassed 1,987 yards passing and has completed 163 of 291 attempts for 17 touchdowns. The team is averaging 201.8 yards through the air, which the Marauders believe could help push them past host Greenwood (8-2) on Friday during the sectional semifinals.
“We have guys, when you get them out in open space, who can make some moves. We can convert a lot of big plays,” Harley said. “I think it’s good for us to take shots and we got a lot of playmakers at receiver, who can get open and make it a lot easier for me.”
Harley’s primary target has been junior Braxton Trittip, who has hauled in 56 receptions for 764 yards and eight touchdowns. Seniors Adam Lackey, Cole Van Slyke and sophomore Cam Cole each have 225 or more yards receiving with a combined five touchdowns.
Greenwood has relied on a more balanced attack to win with quarterback Seth Gallman, a senior, passing for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yet, the Woodmen’s strength resides in the running game where the team averages 219.3 yards per game.
Junior Nick Willham leads Greenwood with 723 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, while senior Brandon Rosado has 666 yards and eight touchdowns. Gallman has run for a team-high 10 touchdowns.
While a daunting task, the Marauders defense is gearing up to slow down the Woodmen’s 31.4 points-per-game trend.
“We’re more of a run-style defense and honestly, our practices have been nothing but physical. It’s been a huge part of our turning point to the season,” Campbell said. “We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the season with our defense.”
Over the past two games, the Marauders have surrendered 20 points. Against Shelbyville, they recorded five sacks (three by junior Max Burhenn), six tackles for a loss and 46 tackles total along with three interceptions.
If they can bring the same intensity this week, the result could spell the end of another theme. At 4-1 on their home field and 0-5 on the road this season, the Marauders will need to snap the drought to survive and advance.
“It all comes down to a mindset. You just have to deal with it,” Campbell said. “It’s going to be cold Friday night, maybe rainy, but no matter where you go, you have to play hard. We’ve definitely done it (at home), now we have to take it on the road.”