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PREVIEW: Karns City Banking on Throwback Offense to Lead the Way

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — In an era of spread offenses where a quarterback rarely — if ever — lines up under center, the Karns City football team is old school.

Sure, the Gremlins will go four-wide and put quarterback Eric Booher in the shotgun from time to time. But that’s not in the Karns City DNA.

Using a fullback is. Running the ball is. And nothing will change that this season.

(Above photo, from left: Senior Josh Griffiths, coach Joe Sherwin and senior Luke Garing)

“I feel like we’re the abnormality of the league,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin. “We’re under center and most of the other teams are spread offenses. We huddle up, so we’re like the dinosaur. We’re like a dying breed.”

That line of thinking worked well in the District 9 Class 2A championship game last season against Brookville. The Gremlins controlled possession with a punishing ground game and kept the ball away from the Raiders and their high-powered offense led by quarterback Jack Krug in a stunning 16-14 victory.

With the number of passing offenses Karns City will see again in 2021, that strategy seems like a pretty sound one to repeat.

“I guess our philosophy is we want to possess the ball, keep it away from them. That’s less points they score,” Sherwin said. “That helped us last year in the playoffs against those two explosive teams. We want to get three, four yards a pop. If we keep doing that, we control the ball and keep the ball out of those explosive offenses’ hands.”

Fullback Luke Garing is pretty adept at getting those tough three or four yards. He did it regularly last year, especially in the playoffs.

Garing was second on the team with 375 yards — Karns City has long spread out its running game to slew of backs.

Garing has a simple plan when he gets the ball.

“Run hard. Try not to get negative yards,” Garing said. “Follow my linemen.”

That line will be anchored by senior center Josh Griffths, who will be the one player up front who won’t be in some sort of a rotation.

Sherwin has a slew of options in the trenches, including Mason McNany, Cole Hilliard and Aaron Taylor. Others will get some time, too.

“We’ll be playing seven, eight guys — maybe nine guys — to keep them fresh,” Sherwin said. “Offensive line is always a work in progress. It takes time for the offensive line to hold together. They have a lot of potential.”

Garing will also be a key part of the defense.

He moves from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, replacing Nathan Waltman. The move will allow Garing the freedom to go sideline-to-sideline and use his athletic ability and instincts to make even more plays.

“That will give him a little more flexibility,” Sherwin said. “He was an outside linebacker before, and was kind of limited to just one side of the field. Now he can go both ways.”

Karns City’s defense should also be boosted by the return of sophomore Luke Cramer at linebacker. Cramer missed all of last season, but made an impact on the Gremlins’ basketball team in the winter.

“He’s looking good so far,” Sherwin said.

Micah Rupp is also back in the secondary. Rupp can cover a lot of ground. That’s important against some of the pass-happy teams Karns City will square off against.

“He’s our last line of defense back there,” Sherwin said. “We kind of count on him to stop the big play.

“We went to several pass scrimmages over the summer working on our pass coverage and getting those things down,” Sherwin said. “It’s not just the secondary. The D-line has an important job of putting pressure on the quarterback, but still keeping him contained and not letting him scramble. The linebackers have an important job of knocking receivers off their routes and covering. It’s a team thing.”

But when it comes down to it, the best defense in Karns City is a good offense.

“There’s no secrets; we definitely want to run the ball,” Sherwin said. “But at the same time, you have to be efficient and complete some passes. If not, people are just going to load up the box on us and stop us that way. You have to keep them honest from time to time throwing the ball and you have to be able to hit the home run.”


COACH: Joe Sherwin

LAST YEAR: 6-3, won the District 9 Class 2A championship before losing to District 10 power Wilmington in the state playoffs.

STRENGTHS: Offensive line and grit. Karns City is a team made up of hard-nosed, lunch-pail, blue-collar players and they perform like that on the field. … The Gremlins have depth up front and at running back. … Karns City also has a chip on its shoulder after seeing St. Marys and Ridgway picked ahead of them in the D9 Big School polls — an angry Gremlin is a dangerous Gremlin.

WEAKNESSES: Pass defense. Last year, Karns City struggled at times slowing down teams like Brookville and Central Clarion (in the regular season, anyway) in the pass-happy Big School division. But the Gremlins went to work on that and have an X-factor in the secondary in Rupp. …

OUTLOOK: Karns City is Karns City and the Gremlins always seem to be in the mix at the end of the season. With the schedule back to normal, the Gremlins will get their shot at teams like St. Marys and Ridgway during the regular season. The outcomes of those games will go a long way in determining what kind of season Karns City has.

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Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Wedding DJ | Schiemer Entertainment Services