Only in sports could the buildup surrounding an upcoming football game be centered around a refurbished piece of railroad.
The Boundary Rail, a section of railroad track that used to parallel U.S. 40, will be up for grabs Friday night (7:30 p.m.) at New Palestine’s Kelso Stadium as 4A No. 7 Mt. Vernon and the Dragons clash for the 49th time.
The Rail is among the items the Marauders have on their list of ambitions this season. MV was able to check off one of those goals last week at Delta, throttling the Eagles 35-0 and capturing the outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.
Since the trophy’s introduction in 2005, no Mt. Vernon team has raised the rail. MV’s last victory over NP was a 17-14 triumph in the sectional semifinals on Nov. 3, 2006, but the rail is a regular-season prize, and the Marauders’ last win of that sort was a 38-6 victory on Oct. 17, 2003.
The connection between the two teams runs deeper than iron and steel. Mt. Vernon coach Doug Armstrong was the head man at New Palestine from 2002-08, winning two HHC and sectional titles.
“Honestly, it was so long since I was there. I’m not coaching against any kids I weight-trained or coached at all,” said Armstrong, now in his second season at MV. “The coaches over there are friends of mine and are loyal to me.
“It’s just about…my job is to win as many games for Mt. Vernon as I can.”
Rookie NP coach Charlie Hill was an assistant under Armstrong for five seasons, and said Armstrong taught him the finer points of breaking down an opponent and its tendencies. But Hill was also steadfast in his belief that Friday’s tilt is more than just another game for his former boss.
“I think the Boundary Rail and some of the other things are of little or no consequence to him,” Hill said. “I’m sure he’s got a burning passion to beat New Pal and not just win by a point or two. I’m sure we’ll see an amped-up Mt. Vernon team. I think they’re looking to win and to win big.
“It’ll make for a raucous Friday night if we’re ready to compete.”
Compete is exactly what opposing teams have struggled to do against Mt. Vernon (7-1, 6-0 HHC). Since its season-opening 28-21 OT setback to Kokomo, MV has run off seven straight wins by an average score of 48.3-12.7. The black-and-gold are the highest-scoring team in 4A (44.8 points per game) and average 359.8 rushing yards per game.
Conversely, coaches often claim that “defense wins championships,” and the Marauders’ varsity unit is working on a 13-quarter scoreless streak that dates back to the team’s Week 5 game against Pendleton Heights.
Armstrong, formerly defensive coordinator at Cathedral, has been impressed with the progression of his Black Outs, who are surrendering 14.6 ppg, sixth in 4A.
“Our defense does one thing very well, and that’s run to the ball. Our line is…they play with some passion to them,” Armstrong offered. “With (Tristan) Blanton, (Lucas) Rice and (Brandon) Lindman, they draw a lot of double teams. Those guys play hard.”
Blanton, Rice and Lindman have combined for 12 sacks this season, while the quartet of Andy Spears (109 tackles), Cody Baker (81), Alex Chambers (58) and Seth Hammett (55) have snuffed out any potential big plays.
“It’s all come together,” Armstrong added.
New Palestine (3-5, 2-4 HHC) relied on its ground game to cruise past Greenfield-Central 47-7 last week.
NP ran 61 offensive plays, 59 of which were runs. Thirty eight of those carries went to senior running back Nick Survant, who rumbled for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
Survant, who didn’t play football last season, had 10 carries going into last week’s game, but worked his way up the depth chart to earn the start against G-C.
“He had a lot of catching up to do,” Hill noted. “It was rewarding for him and for us to see him do so well on Friday.”
Hill knows what the sort of test his offense faces next.
“The Mt. Vernon defense is going to be big and strong with bruising tacklers,” Hill said. “It’ll be a good challenge to run the ball against them.”
Adding to the game’s intrigue is the fact that the two squads will square off at New Palestine in the first round of sectional play one week from Friday.
“We’ll start fresh on Saturday worrying about the tournament and prepare the same or differently depending on the outcome, “Armstrong offered. “We’ll worry about next week next week.”
Notes: … NP quarterback Blake Luker is not fully recovered from his right thumb injury. Hill didn’t know if Luker, who caught a TD pass at wideout against G-C, would play QB this week. Chaz Hill started in Luker’s place against G-C. … NP running back Matt Siergiej (concussion) is doubtful for Friday’s game.
Echeverria, EH want Royal Pride Bell back
Eastern Hancock seniors Jake Hicks, Dalton Korlowicz, Mitchell Kramer, J.T. Marley and Sam Novick will play their last home game Friday night (7 p.m.) against Edinburgh.
EH coach Pat Echeverria would love for them to be able to ring the Royal Pride Bell following what he hopes will be a successful sendoff for his seniors.
There’s one problem with that scenario: the bell has been stolen.
Echeverria first noticed that the old church bell, which Echeverria found over the summer in an antique shop, was missing from its perch in the east end zone on Sept. 28, the day of the Royals tilt at Wes-Del.
EH dedicated the restored bell during its Week 5 game against Milan.
The second-year coach believed the bell’s heist to be a prank at first. After all, Echeverria was involved in the Monon Bell rivalry with Wabash as a DePauw lineman.
“It was one of those things where if you stole (the Monon Bell), you had a pep rally, and then the other team got it back,” said Echeverria, a 2001 DePauw graduate. “My sophomore year, they stole it and we got it back the Wednesday before the game.”
Echeverria has met with school principal Dave Pfaff about the issue, and the two are still developing potential leads.
“I didn’t want to make it a legal thing, but it’s getting to the point where it we don’t get it back, someone needs to be punished,” Echeverria explained.
As for Friday’s game, Eastern Hancock (3-5) faces an Edinburgh (4-4) squad that has acquired as many wins this season as it did in 2011 and 2010 combined.
“They’re definitely a program on the rise. They’re having a good season. Their quarterback (Sammy Wilkerson) is a senior, he’s been through the battles.”
Wilkerson has tossed 22 touchdowns this year and isn’t shy about spreading around the wealth, with five players accounting for at least 145 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
Echeverria hopes to have Korlowicz, who is recovering from an ankle sprain, back on Friday to help negate the Lancers’ aerial attack.
Notes: … EH drew Class A No. 5 Hagerstown (8-0) for its sectional matchup, and will host the Tigers on Oct. 19. … Royals’ running back Spencer Gilbert (1,096 rushing yards) is 24 yards behind MV’s Anthony Burnett for most in the county.
Cougars move on from rivalry-game losses
Keep working. Trying to get better. One play at a time.
Greenfield-Central coach Roger Dodson admits he often recites sports clichés, but Dodson also uses those axioms to guide him in times of turmoil.
Dodson’s squad has been run over the past two weeks against Mt. Vernon and New Palestine, yielding 442 rushing yards to the Marauders and 357 to the Dragons last week.
“We obviously didn’t play very well,” Dodson noted.
The Cougars (3-5, 2-4 HHC) now turn their attention to visiting Pendleton Heights (6-2, 4-2 HHC) Friday at 7:30 p.m. The defending sectional champs have recovered from their mid-season two-game losing streak and have won three conference games in a row.
The Arabian offense is run through the Furrow brothers. Quarterback Jesse has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back Jonathon has churned out 696 yards and 12 TDs on the ground.
“They keep getting better every week,” Dodson explained. “It’s another good conference opponent for us.”
The G-C offense scored 75 points in its two games leading up to MV, but has only registered 20 points the past two weeks. Injuries along the offensive line, in addition to the poor weather last week against NP, have made things difficult for the Cougar offense recently.
“We’re scrambling, trying to get people in the right place,” Dodson said.
Notes: … G-C will travel to Muncie Central (2-6) for its sectional opener. The Cougars defeated Muncie Southside 48-22 in the first round of sectional play last season.