Gremlins ready to reclaim D-IX crown
KARNS CITY - Entering the postseason for the fourth time in as many seasons, Gremlins head coach Ed Conto finds his team peaking at the right time - playoff time.
Every year, Conto and the Gremlins seem to start out slow but put everything together in time for the playoffs and this year is no different.
Karns City (7-2) is coming off a 74-13 whipping of Union-Rimersburg in the final week of the season. The Gremlins are riding three-game winning streak into the playoffs but find themselves playing a formidable opponent this weekend.
On Saturday evening Karns City plays Brookville (8-1), also on a three-game skein, as the Gremlins take their first step towards regaining the District IX championship.
The Gremlins played well against Triple-A Meadville as they cruised to a 33-0 win and even played better last week against hapless Union-Rimersburg.
"The kids are coming," Conto said. "We definitely have had a rough year. When I broke down the film, our kids didn't have a lot of mistakes. The kids played well."
But Brookville is a little better than Union-Rimersburg and Meadville.
"Like any good team, they keep getting better," Brookville head coach Chris Dworek said. "Conto knows what they have to do at the end of the year and what they are supposed to do at the end of the year."
Brookville has a balanced offense as the Raiders have 956 yards passing and 1,065 yards rushing. But it is the play of quarterback Nick Heschke that worries Conto.
"He runs a good option, so we can't let him break containment," Conto said. "This guy can make some nice balls on the run with poor technique."
On the season, Heschke was 47-of-91 for 665 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Conto compares Heschke to a quarterback in the KSAC, Clarion-Limestone's Hayden Johnston. Heschke is a good running threat like Johnston but isn't as athletic, Conto said.
Last week against Meadville, Heschke ran for a season high 138 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries.
"He is getting a lot more accurate as the season goes along," Dworek said. "He is a smart. He is more careful with his passes. He can scramble if he gets in trouble. Scrambling quarterbacks, everybody hates them."
Conto added that his defensive backs need to play tight on pass plays and disrupt Heschke's timing.
"Defensively, our pass defense has been pretty tough all year but we are going to have to jam this week," he said. "This is probably the most precise passer we've seen all year. The kid throws the ball really well. He puts everything on timing routes right on the money."
But the Gremlins offense has also been balanced.
Mike Croyle has led the Gremlins this season under center and has stepped in well to take over for the graduated Erik Fuhrer. Croyle has thrown for 851 yards and four touchdowns on the season but it is the running game that keeps the Gremlins offense on the field.
Josh Fiscus led the team with 930 yards but Mike Stitt, Jake Sweeney and Mike Stimac compliment each other rather well. On any given day, Conto could put any one of the four in, and the ground game wouldn't miss a beat. Through the regular season, Karns City has rushed for over 2,200 yards.
"We have had success against good running teams but being consistent is key," Dworek said. "They have the versatility to hit you at different phases."
"Our offensive line is blocking well," Conto said. "Our backs are running well. Pass blocking well all year. Consistently in the passing game has been slow but it is precise passing. It hasn't made many turnovers."
And that could lead the Gremlins back to the top of District IX.