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GROUNDED GREMLINS: Karns City Uses Smashmouth Running Game Again to Secure Class 2A Playoff Spot in 34-19 Win Over Mount Union

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Members of the Karns City football team, cheerleaders and the band lined up on the field at Diehl Stadium after the game for the “Fifth Quarter.”

It was a solemn prayer vigil and tribute to fallen classmate Mason Martin, who has been in everyone’s thoughts and prayers in the Karns City community and beyond since he suffered a serious head injury during a game on Sept. 1.

He is still fighting, undertaking an arduous recovery in a Pittsburgh hospital.

His teammates have been fighting all season, too — for him and for a playoff spot. They wanted to extend the season for Mason.

(Pictured above, Luke Cramer rumbles for some of his 118 yards in Karns City’s victory over Mount Union/photo by Holly Mead)

Using a rugged ground game again, Karns City bludgeoned Mount Union on the way to a 34-19 win that put the Gremlins in the District 9 Class 2A playoffs next week, most likely in a semifinal matchup against Brookville.

The win was also something to celebrate on the same field where Martin and Karns City suffered such a profound tragedy 56 days ago.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to walk off this field for the last time,” said senior running back and linebacker Luke Cramer. “Our guys fought really hard. We fought hard and came out on top. I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team right now.”

After rushing for 601 yards last week against Bradford, the sledding was a little harder this week against a Mount Union team that came in with an 8-1 record.

The Trojans, a Class 2A team from District 6, dressed just 22 players against Karns City and were worn down by the relentless, physical running game of the Gremlins.

Cramer rushed for 118 yards on 18 carries, Hunter Scherer added 100 yards on 19 attempts and Braden Slater, playing quarterback under center most of the night — and doing some lead blocking, too — gained 71 yards on just three carries and also scored twice.

In all, the Gremlins piled up 323 yards on the ground.

“That’s the Karns City mentality,” Cramer said, grinning. “That’s what we like to do. They know what we are doing, but they still couldn’t stop it. That’s why we practice so hard.”

(Mason Martin’s sisters, McKenna, left, and Sydney, carry his home and away jerseys to midfield/photo by Holly Mead)

Karns City added some wrinkles to that running game with Slater under center with freshman quarterback Cole Johnston out again because of injury.

He spent much of the night taking a snap, turning to deliver a quick pitch to a teammate, and then turning to lead block.

“It’s been a change,” Slater said, smiling. “It’s a little bit nerve wracking jumping in at QB, but someone had to jump in and lead the team and I was happy to do it.”

Cramer actually threw three passes in the game, going 1-of-3 for 12 yards.

“I played quarterback before,” Cramer said, chuckling, “but I never thought I’d play it again at the varsity setting. Once Cole (went down, we knew I might have to run this.”

Cramer delivered a nice pass to Zach Kelly for a 12-yard gain that kept Karns City’s first drive alive. That march ended with a 7-yard run from Cramer and a 6-0 lead.

Cramer scored again late in the second quarter on a 29-yard run to put the Gremlins up 12-0 at the half.

Nasir Collins got Mount Union on the board with a 38-yard punt return with 7:48 on the clock in the third quarter to trim Karns City’s lead to 12-7.

But Karns City responded with a 51-yard run by Slater, who faked a handoff and sprinted around left end untouched for the score a 20-7 lead after a 2-point conversion run by Scherer.

The Gremlins extended that lead to 27-7 when Scherer plowed in from the 2 with 9:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Mount Union got within two scores on a 33-yard pass from Bryce Danish to Je’Sean Robinson, but Owen Heginbotham put the exclamation point on the Karns City win with a 4-yard run and a 34-13 lead.

The Trojans scored late on a 13-yard pass from Danish to Nasir Collins with 51 seconds left.

Mount Union came into the game averaging nearly 300 yards on the ground and 10 yards per carry. Karns City held the Trojans to 69 yards on 27 attempts.

Danish was 10-of-17 passing for 197 yards.

“I liked the way we played on defense,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin. “They had a tough running game, and I think we took them a little bit out of what they like to do. Once we got them out of their game plan, that was to our advantage.”

Karns City (5-5) will now reset and focus on the Class 2A playoffs.

There, anything can happen, especially with Martin still on their minds and a motivational factor.

“Mason’s spirit, his fight, has carried over to our football team,” Sherwin said. “We’re just going to go out and fight every week and do the best job we can. I think his spirit is with us.

“We just wanted to get to the dance,” Sherwin added. “Anything can happen. We’ve had some years where we weren’t expected to win and we won some games, so we’re gonna get ourselves prepared, go fight, and see what happens.”