Composure key in Karns City football team's win
Numerous moments in Karns City's 33-27 win over Kane in the District 9 Class AA championship Friday at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium highlighted the Gremlins' mental toughness.
Considering their ability to erase an early 14-0 deficit, their composure in dealing with two second-half red-zone turnovers and their last-minute touchdown drive, the Gremlins (9-3) proved their mettle on the way to the team's first district title since 2009.
“It would've been very, very easy for us to hang out heads and not get moving again,” Karns City coach Ed Conto said. “I think I have to give the line credit, because once they started pushing them around, they kind of took (Kane's) heart, and that's what we needed to do.”
Kane did the most damage up front early in the game. With big runs by Jonah Smith and long passes by Sean Jordan, the Wolves marched downfield during their first two possessions for touchdowns — the drives stretched 72 and 66 yards, respectively.
“They had a lot of formations, and we weren't lining up right,” Conto said. “We just could've played better. We weren't getting 11 guys to the football. We were tentative. … That's been our story all year. We come out a little slow, and then as we get more confident, we do better.”
Karns City's defense stopped Kane the first two times the Wolves had the ball in the second quarter — junior Adam Whited recovered a fumble during the latter stop. But Kane managed to drive 70 yards for a touchdown in the final 1:23 of the half and went to the locker room ahead, 20-12.
“We were bickering and stuff, and the coaches told us, ‘You have to calm down and get focused because you can beat this team,' ” Karns City junior Dakota Mohney said. “They told us at halftime that they wanted three touchdowns, so our mindset was on three touchdowns. And we gave them what they wanted.”
Mohney made the game-winning touchdown catch with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But he was one of many non-seniors involved with the comeback effort.
There was sophomore Tristan Rhoades, who took an option pitch from junior quarterback Tyler Kepple and went 50 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown that cut Kane's third-quarter lead to 20-18. Rhoades finished with 11 carries for 141 yards.
There was Kepple, who completed 13 of 24 pass attempts for 143 yards and also rushed for 46 yards.
There was junior Zach Moore, who scored on a 42-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter to give Karns City a 26-20 lead. He finished with six carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
Kepple and Moore's biggest moments came after each turned the ball over inside Kane's 20-yard line. Kepple, responsible for the 9-yard game-winning throw to Mohney, tossed an interception at the Kane 3-yard line late in the third quarter. And Moore, just one possession before his long touchdown run, fumbled at the Kane 5.
Karns City will aim for a smoother performance when it meets District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge in the PIAA first round this coming Friday at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium. But they'll know better than to panic if they have another bad start.
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.