Carey takes on versatile Hillsdale

Carey football is back where it belongs.

After a five-year hiatus from the state playoffs, Carey — under the direction of new coach Jonathon Mershman — is playing in Week 12 of the Division VI state tournament.

Despite a few tough losses at the end of the season, the Blue Devils (8-3) bounced back and were the first team in the Northern 10 Athletic Conference to beat Wynford with a 7-2 victory last week.

With Carey back in the playoffs, there comes more distractions, which can be a bad thing. Coach Mershman said he wants his kids to stay focused on Hillsdale (8-3), a team that handled Seneca East last week 28-7 in Attica.

“I think we’ve had a good week of practice, but I thought last week we had a great week and were really focused,” Mershman said. “Obviously, there is a bit of excitement in the air here and we’ve had to reel them in a bit with all of the excitement going on around town.

“However, I know the guys will be ready to play. The town’s excited and I’ve seen a lot of stuff going on around here and parents doing different stuff, so it’s special around here right now.”

To keep the feeling going won’t be easy as the Falcons are an experienced squad that will play good football tonight at Highland High School in Marengo.

“We just want to keep doing what we have been and keep it simple,” Falcons coach Tom Williams said. “We have been playing good football lately and we won’t want to change much going into Friday.”

If the Falcons play like they did against Seneca East in Week 11, they won’t need to change anything against the Blue Devils as they punched the Tigers in the mouth early and shut down Seneca East in the red zone.

The Falcons executed an onside kick and a deep pass to score in the first 11 seconds of the game, so the Blue Devils will have to be ready to play Friday.

“We watched what they did to Seneca East early and then Seneca East had good field position on the next drive and drove the ball down the field. They just couldn’t score and I was surprised with how well they kept Seneca East out of the end zone,” Mershman said. “When we get down there, if we do, we have to find a way to score some points because we know how good their offense is and we have to capitalize when we can.”

The Carey offense has been struggling of late, especially against good defenses (Seneca East, Mohawk and Wynford).

The offense goes as senior quarterback Brayden Wentling goes. He has compiled 1,153 yards passing with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also led the Blue Devils in rushing with 638 yards and 10 scores on 114 carries. Backing Wentling is Willie Schafer with 394 yards and four TDs rushing and Adam Hackworth has added 295 yards rushing.

His top receiver has been Griffin Summit, who caught 12 balls for 308 yards and a pair of scores.

“They present some challenges and will be a bit different that Seneca East last week,” Williams said. “Their quarterback gets them going, though. He is a tough kid and is really athletic. We will have to make sure to rally to the ball and tackle him when we get the chance.

“They also have some hard-running backs and some skilled guys on the outside. We will have to be sound again on that side of the ball this week.”

One of the big keys to the game might not even be in the game. Carey’s Cody Luzader received to unsportsmanlike penalties against Wynford last week and was ejected. He is serving a one-game suspension this week. He had seven TDs on the ground and three scores receiving for the Blue Devils this season. He also picked off a couple passes on defense.

“Luzader is suspended, but we have to keep moving forward,” Mershman said. “One player can’t make or break a season. Yeah, we would love to have him, but we had some new skill guys move up this season and they’ve done a good job. They will have to step it up even more Friday, but I have faith in those guys and our team.”

The defensive side of the ball is where Carey is strongest. Jordan Clauss led the N10 in tackles. He made 117 with 10.5 of those coming for a loss. Logan Smiley had 68 tackles and 8.5 TFLs and Grant Frederick compiled 64 tackles, 23 TFLs and 6.5 sacks.

The defense will go up against a well-balanced and explosive offense in the Falcons.

Against SE, Hillsdale struck early and then pounded the Tigers with a lot of Garrett Smith out of the backfield. Smith, who is just 5-foot-7, had more than 100 yards rushing against the Tigers. QB Trey Williams is efficient with the ball and throws a good deep ball, especially to wideout Trace Stiltner, who had two TDs and more than 100 yards receiving last week.

“They have some really nice skill players and some nice size out there with some tall receivers,” Mershman said. “Their back is quick and shifty and it seems like they don’t have the biggest offensive line on paper, but they play big and they handled Seneca East last week.

“Their QB does a good job with the offense and it seems like he knows exactly where he’s going most plays and he executes the play. You have to ready to cover with him back there. If I was him and saw a 6-foot-3 receiver out there, I’d be throwing it up to him also.”

In the end, today will be a game of turnovers and having the ability to score when the opportunity knocks. The Blue Devils have to come ready to play, which is something they didn’t do a good job of a few weeks back during the tough stretch of the season.

“I’m really hoping we come out like we did last week against Wynford,” Mershman said. “We have to come out with that fire. Last week it got a little chippy, but that was against an N10 rival and kids that knew each other from different sports, so we hope to clean up those 15-yard penalties this week. But I liked the attitude. We were back to playing Carey football.

“We hit you, we hit you and we hit you some more. That’s what we do around here and if we can play like that again this weekend I think we can be in any game we play.”