Injuries don't keep Karns City from earning top seed
When Karns City met St. Marys 10 weeks ago in the season opener, Gremlins coach Ed Conto anticipated some miscues, if only because his team had just finished training camp.
With Karns City (7-3) set to host the Dutchmen (5-5) at 7 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the District 9 Class AA playoffs, Conto sees a team that's progressed considerably since Week 1, when the Gremlins prevailed, 38-25.
But he said he believes injuries throughout the year stifled Karns City's ability to fully mature in time for the playoffs.
The Gremlins, winners of the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference's Large School division, enter the four-team Class AA bracket as the top seed.
Their target remains a district title, which Karns City last won in 2009. But numerous lineup changes left the team less sharp than it desired.
“We've had so many injuries. We've played so many kids. We've switched so many positions,” Conto said.
“It's like we're still in the second week of camp. It's just change, change, change, change, change. … I'm really proud of where our guys are considering that.”
Karns City overcame its injury troubles with the help of remarkable depth. Seven players have rushed for more than 100 yards this season.
Twenty players have double-digit tackle totals. And 13 different Gremlins are responsible for at least one touchdown.
Junior fullback Zach Moore was one of the first to step up and shoulder a greater workload. When a knee injury left senior Glenn Toy sidelined for almost the entire season, Moore became the feature back. Among starting ball carriers, he now leads the team in yards per carry. He has 48 rushes for 469 yards and five touchdowns.
Junior running back Wyatt Everetts has a team-high 598 yards and four touchdowns on 77 carries, and junior quarterback Tyler Kepple ranks second with 472 yards and five scores on 69 carries.
A separated shoulder in Week 5 limited Kepple's ability to throw downfield, so Karns City recommitted to dominating with the run.
On Friday, the Gremlins will go head to head with an opponent that's just as reliant on a ground game.
Junior fullback Alex Feldbauer leads St. Marys' Wing-T attack, which averages 307.4 yards per game. Feldbauer has rushed 244 times for a team-high 1,604 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“They're a good, hard-running team, so you have to smack them in the mouth, or they're going to smack us in the mouth,” said senior middle linebacker Dalton Bly, who has a team-high 106 tackles.
“We're the run defense. Everything about us is stop the run, make them pass.”
A win would put Karns City in the district final for the second year in a row and the 10th time since 2000.
Kepple considers the Gremlins no less capable of a championship now, even with the injury-induced shuffling. The key, he believes, is to avoid overconfidence.
“Being the first seed, you have that big target on your back,” Kepple said. “Everybody wants to come out and try to beat you.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.