BROCKWAY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — For most of the season, the Karns City offensive line has been in a state of flux.
Injuries have ravaged the unit. The Gremlins have had to start 11 different players up front during the season.
(Photos by Holly Mead of Holly Mead Photography)
Usually, that spells doom. Not in Karns City.
Despite the constant shuffling, the Gremlins have continued to run the ball and run it well.
And they have continued to win.
Now, the line of tackles Austin Brown and Aaron Taylor, guards TJ Vlassich and Cole Hilliard and center Josh Griffiths is finally healthy and intact again. Good thing as Karns City will meet Ridgway at 7 p.m. Friday with the District 9 Class 2A title on the line at Brockway.
“One time Josh was out. Another time Cole Hilliard was out,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin. “I think only Aaron and TJ have been there the whole time. Austin has had to move around quite a bit because when Josh was out, he moved to center. It’s just been kind of shuffling and shifting things around every week.”
In Karns City, building depth is a big part of the program. For the better part of two decades, the Gremlins have had a philosophy of rotating players up front and in the backfield.
Developing that kind depth pays off. It certainly has this season up front.
“No doubt,” Sherwin said. “Coach (Zach) Kepple is our offensive line coach and he’s done an excellent job with those guys. We try to train everybody and prepare them to be able to start and play. It’s been a benefit to us throughout the season.”
That offensive line, as well as tight end Nathan Lessner — an extension of it — has helped Karns City come close to producing two 1,000-yard rushers so far this season.
Fullback Luke Garing had gained 950 yards on the ground and has scored 23 touchdowns on just 120 carries. Jayce Anderson has added 907 yards and nine touchdowns on 108 attempts. As a team, Karns City has averaged 282 rushing yards per game and 7.2 yards per rush.
Garing, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, is a load to bring down. When he gets a full head of steam, there’s little a defense can do to keep him from gaining at least a few yards.
“He’s not going backwards,” said Ridgway coach Mark Heindl.
Sherwin called him the best fullback the Karns City program has had in the past 25 years. He’s certainly the best short-yardage runner in recent memory.
“For a guy his size, he has a knack for finding the right hole and he’s pretty agile in the open field,” Sherwin said.
As good as Garing has been on offense, he’s been just as good on defense.
The District 9 Small School Division defensive MVP moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker this season.
“He makes all the calls for us on defense, gets everybody in the right position,” Sherwin said. “He’s kind of like the quarterback of the defense. We moved him inside and he’s done a fantastic job in there. He has the freedom to roam from sideline to sideline.”
Like Karns City (10-1), Ridgway (8-3) has also had to deal with a fair share of injuries.
The Elkers lost senior quarterback Jonathan Hinton in Week 7 against Central Clarion to a torn ACL.. The next week, Karns City went to Johnsonburg and shut out Ridgway, 35-0.
“Take nothing away from Karns City the first time we played — they’re big and their physical and they definitely left their mark in Johsonburg back in October,” Heindl said. “But, you know, I think both teams are in a different spot than what they were the last time. Karns City is a much better football team and at the same time we’re a much better football team.”
Since then, Heindl and his staff have found their new quarterback in senior Domenic Allegretto, who began the season as a running back.
He’s become a dangerous dual threat in recent weeks with 377 yards passing and 774 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
“To see how he’s progressed, it’s big,” Heindl said. “He’s had five weeks under his belt and he’s grown immensely. It’s not just him, it’s our whole offense in general that’s gelled since he’s taken over.”
Ridgway is relishing a chance at a rematch.
In the first meeting, the Elkers moved the ball at times against the Gremlins, but four turnovers sabotaged them.
“Turning the ball over four times, that’s a killer,” Sherwin said. “There were times when they were driving down the field and we just happened to get a turnover. If they end up scoring, it could have been an entirely different game.”
Karns City is gunning for back-to-back district titles.
Last year, the Gremlins beat Brookville, 16-14, after losing 44-0 to the Raiders in the regular season.
Getting back to the title game has been satisfying for Karns City.
“I think we’ve overcome a lot this year,” Sherwin said. “You know, all teams have been dealing with COVID and dealing with injuries. This is probably the healthiest we have been all season because we’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of things not necessarily go our way. We’ve been able to plug guys in and still be successful. That’s something to be proud of.”