By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Defense set the tone early for Mt. Vernon in a 21-12 victory Friday night at Seneca.
The Mountaineers, undefeated and ranked fourth in Class 3, were tested early after Monty Mailes opened the game with a long kick return that gave the Indians possession at the Mt. Vernon 20-yard line.
Eight plays later, Seneca turned it over on downs at the 8.
Mt. Vernon then marched 92 yards in 12 plays without a single third down and scored on a Zach Jones-to-Mason Ballay 11-yard pass. The Mountaineers never relinquished that lead.
“It’s one of the best first quarters I think we’ve ever had because the defense held them out, it gave our offense momentum and we had like a 94-yard drive or whatever to score and that really was a good confidence booster for us on both sides of the ball,” Mt. Vernon coach Tom Cox said.
Jones later connected with Cale Miller for an 8-yard touchdown, and Jones passed to Rafe Darter for the conversion to make it 14-0 with 5:18 left in the half.
The Mt. Vernon defense got in on the scoring minutes later.
Jones threw a pass intercepted by Seneca’s Zane Cotten at the 16, but that was just the first of four turnovers in the final 49 seconds of the half. Mt. Vernon’s Antonia Perry recovered a fumble at the 12 and Seneca’s Preston Armstrong intercepted a pass at the 23.
The big turnover came when Mt. Vernon’s Aaron Day picked off a pass near the Seneca sideline and ran into the end zone untouched with one second left in the half. Mt. Vernon led 21-0 at the break.
“Probably the worst two-and-a-half minutes of offensive football you’ll see,” Cox said. “I hope we don’t see it again but it was a great play by Aaron Day on that corner, just a great break and come up and just a huge play for us that got us to 21 to nothing at half.”
Mt. Vernon never scored again, but with a defense allowing just 10.5 points per game coming into Friday it was more than enough.
In the first half alone Seneca turned it over on downs once, punted four times and turned it over twice.
“For the third straight week our defense played really well, they’re creating turnovers and getting stops,” Seneca coach Ryan McFarland said. “They only allowed Mt. Vernon to put up two touchdowns and that’s a great job. Offensively we’ve got to figure out how to get things rolling in the first half better than what we’ve done the last two weeks.”
Cotten intercepted another pass for Seneca early in the third quarter, setting up a 17-play drive for the Indians starting at their own 18. It stalled out near the red zone, however, and Mt. Vernon’s Justin Moore batted down a fourth-down pass to end the drive at the 26.
It took more than seven minutes off the clock, though.
“We definitely don’t want those (long) drives against us but that turned out to be perfect in that they ate up that whole third quarter and we held them out of the end zone again,” Cox said. “Just couldn’t be prouder of our defense. Coach (Chris) Johnson does a great job with them and our defensive coaches really are prepared well.”
Cox was disappointed, though, in the four turnovers committed by his offense.
The fourth came one play after Mt. Vernon stopped Seneca on fourth down, and gave the Indians the ball at the Mt. Vernon 30.
But the defense was big again, stopping Seneca and forcing a turnover on downs after a net loss of four yards.
Seneca finally broke Mt. Vernon’s bid for a third shutout in four games with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter. Mailes broke loose for a 30-yard gain and Trey Wilson added a 23-yard run and then a 5-yard score to make it 21-6.
Seneca’s defense got a turnover on downs at its own 33 with 4:22 remaining.
On a fourth-and-14 at the 49, quarterback Lance Stephens scrambled and uncorked a deep pass that was caught by Dillon Myers at the 2.
Mailes punched it in for the touchdown, but the conversion again came up short and Seneca trailed by two scores with 2:37 remaining.
“There were a lot of opportunities we didn’t take advantage of tonight,” McFarland said. “Part of that goes to Mt. Vernon because they are a really good defense, they’re physical. We really tried to challenge our offensive line this week to be more physical and match the intensity they play with and I don’t think we did a very good job of that tonight. We’ll get some film and watch some film. There’s a good chance we’ll see them down the road in districts and we’ll make sure we’re ready next time.”
Seneca fell to 4-3 with the loss.
As for Mt. Vernon?
“Great to be 7-0,” Cox said.