During the course of a sports season, a letdown usually occurs at some point. The descent normally arrives because of an underestimation of an opponent or after a big win in the previous game. When the letdown arrives, it provides a test of will and puts players’ character and grit on trial.
Inexplicably — or perhaps unsurprisingly if football fans have followed Mt. Vernon’s insatiable desire for success this season — the Marauders have played to their capability in each of their games this season.
Not after earning redemption for its 2011 31-7 sectional loss to Pendleton Heights by handling the Arabians 58-26 in Week 5. Not after shutting out Delta 35-0 on Oct. 5 to claim the program’s first Hoosier Heritage Conference title since 2003. And not after either of its away victories against New Palestine, the first of which secured the Boundary Rail for the first time in MV history.
“Every week our guys have had a chance to slip up for one reason or another, and we just haven’t really played bad. New Pal (in the sectional quarterfinals) hit a couple passes on us, but we still rushed for (348) yards,” said second-year MV coach Doug Armstrong. “We haven’t come out flat or made mistakes. We just come out, block, run hard and tackle people. And when we don’t get the ball thrown over our head, we’re a pretty decent team.
“They’re pretty motivated. They’ve been motivated for the past 12 months. We’ve got to be able to beat the third good team we’ve already beaten.”
That third team 4A No. 4 Mt. Vernon (10-1) wants to topple for the second time in 2012 is Delta (8-3) in Friday’s Sectional 13 championship game in Fortville. MV’s last sectional title was in 2006, Delta’s in 2009.
With a win, the Marauders would be on the road next Friday against 4A No. 3 Roncalli (10-2) or 4A No. 7 Cathedral in a one-game regional final. Delta would either host Cathedral or visit Roncalli.
The Eagles had won nine games in a row against the Marauders before the black-and-gold shutout host Delta in Week 8. That tilt was the second of two times this season that MV didn’t attempt a single pass during a game, the first of which came in the Marauders’ initial matchup with Pendleton Heights.
Not only did Mt. Vernon not need to pass versus Delta — it racked up 415 rushing yards, five TDs and tallied 7.8 yards per carry — but the Eagles have proven all season that they possess a penchant for interceptions and for rushing the passer.
Led by junior free safety Alex Fuatavai’s seven picks, the Eagles’ total of 15 interceptions is tied for 16th-most in the state. Add in the team’s tally of 30 sacks — 13 by senior defensive end Alex Conway, fifth-highest in Indiana — and coach Grant Zgunda knows the Marauders aren’t likely to break from their game plan of run first, pass when necessary.
“You’ve got to stop their run,” said Zgunda, who is 145-35 in his 15 seasons at Delta. “We’re going to have guys on the line of scrimmage that have to be physical in order to shut down their attack, which is pretty hard to do.”
By virtue of its 54-34 victory over Pendleton Heights last week, MV beefed up its scoring average to 45.6 points per game, the best such sum in 4A and sixth-best in the state regardless of class.
Thanks to his 285-yard performance on the ground last week, senior running back Tyler Dicks (1,551 yards) not only took over the team lead in rushing from backfield mate Anthony Burnett (1,423), but also seized the county lead from Eastern Hancock’s Spencer Gilbert (1,507).
“(Burnett and Dicks) are good. You can throw in Andy Spears (424 yards, 18 TDs) in there too. It’s a really good mix,” explained Zgunda, whose defense (15.8 ppg) is ranked seventh in 4A. “They’re seniors, they’ve played a lot of football. I thought they were good last year, and it’s even tougher to stop them this year.
“All three of those guys are good backs. They’re just flat-out good.”
When Armstrong installed the Marauders’ modified Wing-T offense prior to his first season at Mt. Vernon, he figured the scheme would find success because of the team’s personnel, but never thought it would attain this level of production.
“Wow...I didn’t know we would get 550 yards rushing and get 50 points (in a game). I thought we could get 300 yards and 35 points,” explained Armstrong, whose team is averaging 374.6 rushing yards per game. “We have really just blocked with passion. And our backs block for each other.”
The Eagle ground game is no slouch, either. Sophomore running back Joe Spegal (1,582 yards, 15 rush TDs) has accumulated 400 combined rushing yards in his team’s first two playoff games (240 vs. Frankfort, 160 vs. Greenfield-Central) and notched 87 yards on 19 carries in Delta’s first tango with MV.
Spegal is backed up by senior Bryce Dishman (415 yards, six TDs) and sophomore Mason Bechdolt (353 yards, five TDs), the latter of whom is the reigning HHC champion in the 200-meter dash.
“Spegal has a knack for what he’s doing, he knows how to find holes, He’s a pretty impressive runner,” Armstrong offered. “Bechdolt is really fast, and he’s pretty big too. He’s their Mr. Outside runner, and he’ll get better as he gets older.”
Armstrong pinned Friday as just another game, and knows Delta will have some new wrinkles for his team after having almost a month to make adjustments. And though the Marauders have had an easy time of beating the same opponent twice in 2012, Armstrong insists the task is harder than it appears.
“Some teams you may beat 10 out of 10 times,” he said. “But that’s not the case with the teams we play.”
Zgunda said that his team will have to play error-free football against an MV unit that has left an impression on the veteran Delta coach.
“I’ve been in this league 15 years,” he said. “And they’re one of the best teams I’ve seen.”
Notes: Armstrong said two-way lineman Brandon Lindman will play Friday after missing last week’s game with a sprained MCL. … Delta has won seven sectional titles, five under Zgunda. … Burnett, Dicks and Spears have each scored over 100 points this season. … WTHR-TV has selected Mt. Vernon for its Operation Football Tailgate Party this week. Ribeye sanwiches and a bottle of water are available for $5 starting at 4:45 p.m. Friday.