B-A facing big test

John Hayes has faced his share of amazing running backs in his nearly 40 years as Bellwood-Antis’ head football coach, players like Tyrone’s Jesse Jones, Juniata Valley’s Rich Clouse, Steelton-Highspire’s Jeremiah Young, Everett’s Jamie Eichelberger and Northern Bedford’s Brian Koontz, to name a few.

He could not recall, however, watching footage of any of them doing what Mount Union’s Daunte Martin did last week.

Martin, the Mount Union senior, was handed the ball 12 times in the first quarter against Everett. On seven of those carries, he scored.

By the time the second quarter had begun, he had 328 yards and was calling it a night.

“I don’t ever remember anyone having a quarter like that … at any level,” Hayes said. “I don’t think that’s going to be duplicated any time soon. Hopefully not this week.”

Hayes isn’t being altruistic. The Blue Devils begin a murderous three-game stretch to close the regular season by traveling to Mount Union on Friday to face Martin and the Trojans with first place in the Inter-County Conference hanging in the balance. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Both teams are 6-0 in the ICC, a game ahead of Northern Bedford and Southern Huntingdon. Bellwood is 7-0 overall.

Martin enters the contest having overtaken Trojan great Tink Stennett in the Mount Union all-time rushing charts and has 1,211 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns this season on just 90 carries. That’s an average of 13.5 yards per carry.

Something will have to give, because this Blue Devil defense has been remarkably stingy against the run. B-A has held six of its seven opponents to 65 yards or fewer on the ground. Devil foes are averaging a paltry 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.

“We thought coming into the year that our front seven would be our strongest asset,” Hayes said. “They’ve gotten better. We’ve been able to develop some depth there. They’ve really done a good job.”

Hayes also sometimes employs eight defenders at the top two levels. Chris Wertman and Jack Showalter are the defensive tackles, flanked by end Noah Aiken and Caleb Nagle. The linebackers are Thor Schmittle, Eric Morder, Troy Walker and T.J. Wyland.

Schmittle and Morder lead B-A with 42 and 41 tackles, respectively, and Walker is just behind with 38. Aiken tops the Devils with six tackles for loss.

“Their front seven are just so solid,” Mount Union coach David Smith said of the Blue Devil defense. “Those front four guys are making the plays or opening up lanes for a linebacker. Their front four are just really good football players, and their linebackers flow to the ball so well.”

In Martin, they’ll receive an extraordinary opportunity to show just how good they are. Martin is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, possessing breakaway speed. He’s a three-time 1,000-yard rusher who Smith said really dedicated himself in the offseason to making his last year with the Trojans his best.

“He’s really a talented running back, a combination of power and speed,” Hayes said. “And vision. A lot of his runs are cutback runs.”

This contest also presents a big opportunity for Smith’s Trojans, who are competing with Bellwood for points toward the District 6 Class 2A playoffs. Mount Union is on a six-game winning streak after losing in its opener to Huntingdon, which still is undefeated.

“A win, for this program, would be huge, because it would show that when you care about each other like these guys do, the (wins take care of) themselves,” said Smith, who felt his players learned after starting off last season 5-1 before dropping their last five games. “We want to build on these marquee games and build a program that can rival Bellwood.”

The Devils will need to be mentally focused, because, after this week, they host Southern Huntingdon and then head to Northern Bedford to wrap up the regular season.

“This won’t be much different than the first seven weeks, which is to play one week at a time,” Hayes said. “We know it’s a big challenge, and we know that our team knows it’s in for a big challenge. I think we’re going to be up for that challenge. There’s a lot riding on this.

“I think it’s going to be a really good ball game.”