Blue Devils’ o-line grows into strong unit
Group had plenty of question marks at beginning of the season, but has gained confidence of teammates, coach
CAREY — It wasn’t supposed to look quite like this.
And the offensive line didn’t look like this, at least not when Carey was preparing for the season back in August.
“I think it changed. Through two-a-days it was a daily struggle of change,” Blue Devils coach Jonathon Mershman said of his team’s offensive line in the late summer. “Some of the pieces are the same as they were at the beginning of the year.”
But right tackle Easton Korody started at a guard spot. Defensive lineman Trennen Stoll was in the mix at the time, too.
“It’s just been a shuffle of some sophomores, and I think we’ve got the pieces right where they need to be right now,” Mershman said.
The lineup now includes four sophomores and one senior. Korody is joined by fellow classmen Cameron Pahl, Carson Pahl and Collin Ferguson.
Rounding out the group is senior Grant Huston.
It was a struggle at first, but then, the season was a struggle. The Blue Devils began the season 0-3 and 1-4.
“We’ve had a real young line at the beginning of the season,” Huston said. “We just started — at the middle of the season — started coming together and they all started getting plays down, and have really come together good.”
The numbers reflect that. Carey finished the regular season 4-1 — including an overtime win at powerhouse rival Seneca East — and snuck into the Division VI playoffs as an 8 seed.
What followed were back-to-back thrillers. A 50-41 win at top-seeded Western Reserve in the first round of the postseason, and then last week, a 7-0 win over Hillsdale.
Huston said the Blue Devils have gained an important lesson in this roller coaster year.
“Never put your head down at the beginning of the season, thinking you’re whole season’s just done for when you’re 0-3,” he said. “Just keep on pushing through, and good things will (come).”
Friday, Carey will make its first regional final appearance since 1994 when it travels to Marion to face East Knox at 7 p.m.
It’s another step in what has been a long road.
But the Carey line seems to be enjoying the journey.
“We’ve been young, but we keep growing, and it’s been nice to grow with these guys,” Cameron Paul said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing.”
And pushing is how the Blue Devils got to this point.
In the first week of the playoffs against Western Reserve, the Blue Devils were trailing 42-41 with 20 seconds left. They had the ball on the Roughriders’ 5 with no timeouts.
Time for a pass, right?
No. Mershman put his faith in the offensive line, and back Reece Billock, to get the yardage and win the game.
A week later, Carey was in a scoreless tie with Hillsdale at about the two-minute mark. It faced a fourth down from inside the Falcons’ 1.
The Carey defense was having a spectacular game, and Carey has a great place kicker in Anthony Bell.
But Mershman again trusted his line, and fullback Connor Williams, to get the yard.
Again, they did.
Again, Carey won.
“The game was on the line,” Ferguson said. “The running backs had trust in us, so we had to have their back, so we pushed up the line and got the touchdown.”
Mershman said it’s gotten to the point where he has complete confidence in the guys up front.
“Because we’ve had so many lows — we’ve hit the rock bottom — they have just come full-bore back up,” Mershman said. “They’re doing a fantastic job. I don’t know what else to say. They’ve grown so much since the beginning of the year, and now, we’re fixing other spots, instead of fixing offensive line all the time. We’re fixing other spots, and we’re just growing as an offense because of it.”
Some of that is due to Huston, the senior and leader of the group.
“He’s the only one with a little bit of experience,” Mershman said. “The other guys, they played freshman ball and a little bit of JV. So now, you’re asking that senior with a little bit of experience to also teach these younger guys, and he’s done a fantastic job. Grant’s done awesome just helping these guys along and growing them as a group and keeping them together.”
It hasn’t been smooth sailing.
“There’s been times where it’s been trouble,” Mershman said. “They’ve been getting yelled at, but you know what? They’ve fought back and they’ve done a fantastic job.”
Huston was asked about his role.
“Mainly just to keep their heads up when things go south for us, and just really tell them to keep on pushing and things will end up good in the end,” he said. “It’s really just keeping their heads up and pushing.”
It’s an attitude his teammates say they appreciate.
“He’s been a good leader for us,” Cameron Pahl said. “A good captain.”
Now, Carey will look to keep pushing into Marion Friday, and push its way past East Knox.
“They’ve just been getting better and better every week,” Mershman said. “You know, they learn from their mistakes. Their willingness to correct them and just keep getting better is just astounding to me, the way they keep growing as a group together. They’ve just been doing a fantastic job.”