KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — This is not the same Central Clarion football team that traveled to Karns City Sept. 10 and lost to the Gremlins, 37-13.
Since then, the Wildcats have found their identity, especially on defense.
When junior Ryan Hummell moved from free safety to middle linebacker, the dominos began to fall. Everything began to fit into place and Hummell has turned into a force, averaging 16 tackles per game since the move.
He was piled up 121 stops this season in nine games for Central Clarion, which will hope to avenge that September loss to Karns City this week when they take on the Gremlins in the District 9 Class 2A semifinals at Diehl Stadium Friday night.
“He’s just always on the ball,” said Central Clarion coach Dave Eggleton of Hummell. “He’s been just unreal since moving to middle linebacker. That’s been one of the large parts of our defense coming together.”
Another part has been Kaoz Baker in the interior of the line. The 260-pound Baker has been creating chaos up front.
“He’s a great athlete at 260 pounds,” Eggleton said. “He’s one of the few kids on the field who can probably take on (Karns City’s bruising back) Luke Garing and maybe win the battle.”
Central Clarion (4-5) will have five players on defense who either weren’t on the field in the first meeting against Karns City or were in different positions.
That has given the Wildcats reason to be optimistic heading into the matchup with the Gremlins this time around.
“We just have guys stepping up all over the place,” Eggleton said.
That defense will be in for a challenge against top-seeded Karns City.
The Gremlins (9-1) are one of the more physical teams around and want to bludgeon teams with its running game featuring shifty Jayce Anderson and battering-ram Garing.
Those two have combined for 1,622 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.
Garing in particular has a nose for the end zone with 21 TDs. He’s also punched it in on six conversion runs out of Karns City’s Wildcat “Hogs” package.
“You can recycle a defensive scouting report every year on Karns City,” Eggleton said. “We’ve seen eight films on them, from when we’ve played them until now, and it’s the same stuff — they just do it really well. We have to be disciplined, read our keys and get in the right position. Even when you are in the right position, with guys like Luke Garing, you can do everything right and he’s such a good back, so big and strong, he can still pop a big run.”
Karns City is also well aware that the Central Clarion team coming to town Friday is not the same one it squared off against early in the season.
The Gremlins will have head coach Joe Sherwin back. Sherwin missed the final game of the regular season against DuBois while in quarantine.
“It was definitely odd, having to watch the game from my living room,” Sherwin said. “That was weird. I’m glad to be back and glad to get back to normal.”
Sherwin said Karns City used the idle time well. The Gremlins focused on reinforcing fundamentals before diving in to prepare for Central Clarion.
“We just focused on ourselves,” Sherwin said. “We didn’t want to start preparing too soon because sometimes if you start preparing for a team too soon, things get stale and it actually makes you less prepared on a Friday night. We just repped the things we needed to do to get better in that first week and tried to improve on those things that maybe we hadn’t been doing as well as we wanted.”
The Gremlins are also relishing a home playoff game.
“I want to say it’s been five or six years since we had a home playoff game,” Sherwin said. “It’s been a while. It’s nice to have a home playoff game. It’s fantastic for our fans. I’m proud of the season that we’ve had and just want to continue winning, continue playing.”
Central Clarion, the No. 4 seed, is an underdog. That can be empowering for a team.
So can the desire to not see a season end.
“It’s one of those things where people say, ‘You have nothing to lose,'” Eggleton said. “We have some guys that this might be the last time they get to put on football pads. That’s something I’ve really wanted to drive home with our guys. Their football careers depend on what they do this Friday night and they don’t take that for granted. If we win, they get another week of football.”