MOUNT CARMEL, Pa. – Ian Murray, North Schuylkill’s starting punter, hadn’t caught a pass in his varsity career entering Sunday night’s showdown opposite unbeaten Mount Carmel.
“I’d caught passes in JV, but none in my varsity career…until tonight,” Murray said.
Murray’s big night helped the Spartans boot the Red Tornadoes from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Ian Murray hauled in four Ryan Henning passes for 88 yards, including the game-winning 19-yard touchdown reception with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, to help North Schuylkill (7-0) defeat Mount Carmel (6-1), 21-13, before a near-capacity crowd at the Silver Bowl Sunday evening.
On the winning play, Murray said the expectation was for Mount Carmel to blitz heavily.
“But they didn’t,” Murray said. “So I delayed, waited three seconds, and made my move. Henning got me that ball and I made a play.”
Three plays prior to the winning connection between Henning and Murray, junior Matt Gownley scooted 57 yards from the Spartan 21 yard line to the Red Tornado 22, on a run around left end.
“I saw nothing but green in front of me,” said Gownley, who finished with 74 yards on six carries . “And I was hoping it would end in more points on the scoreboard.”
“(Gownley) has been playing like that all season long,” said Spartan head coach Rick Geist. “And (Murray) wasn’t even a starter (at tight end), but he came in and did a good job for us.”
Throughout the course of the game, North Schuylkill lost four players to injuries, including its star fullback and linebacker, Mike Shinkus, who was injured on the opening kickoff. Shinkus spent the rest of the game on the NS sideline on crutches with ice wrapped around his right knee.
But perhaps the scariest of the four injuries came right before halftime, involving sophomore Tim Sokoloski.
Sokoloski was making a break for an underthrown Henning pass with less than 30 seconds left in the half, when he was sandwiched between two Mount Carmel players. Motion was made for the ambulance staff, and Sokoloski left the game and stadium immobilized on a stretcher. Mount Carmel was flagged for pass interference on the play, but the officiating staff did not oblige the Ashland faithful, who were chanting, “Throw him out! Throw him out!” (referencing the Red Tornado player who hit Sokoloski).
“Every time someone went down, another player stepped right up, and that’s what they have to do,” Geist said. “These kids have been overcoming adversity all year. That’s a sign of a good team.”
Mount Carmel worked the first quarter with a stiff breeze blowing toward it, and Rob Varano’s first four passes all fell incomplete. But right before the end of the first period, Zach Wasilewski found Justin Keman for a 15-yard strike, and, after the period ended, Mount Carmel was in the end zone two plays later thanks to a 25-yard run from Meyrick Lamb.
Moving into the same stiff breeze which the red and white had little success with in the first period, North Schuylkill countered two possessions later. Two plays after Henning found Murray on a 46-yard pass, catch and run, Curt Adams hauled in a 10-yard pass from Henning for the Spartans’ first points of the night.
Three plays after Sokoloski left the game, NS grabbed a 13-7 lead thanks to Jonathan Long’s two-yard touchdown run, and the Spartans made the wind relegated to seemingly non-factor status as it drove for its two scores.
Mount Carmel stole the momentum back early in the second half. After stuffing Long for a three-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 situation, the Red Tornadoes rode the strong running of Lamb to its second touchdown – a seven yard burst – to tie the game at 13. Lamb set up the touchdown run with a 27-yard burst from the Spartan 34 yard line.
After that drive, however, North Schuylkill’s run defense stiffened, holding MCA to just 26 yards over its final 10 rushing attempts. The Spartans also limited Mount Carmel to just 75 passing yards on a combined 5-of-17 night between Varano and Wasilewski.
The Spartans seemed poised to strike after recovering a punt at the Red Tornado 22 yard line with 9:40 left in regulation after Lamb inadvertently touched the ball. But NS turned the ball over on downs just 19 seconds later.
On the winning touchdown drive, the Spartans needed just five plays to cover 80 yards. NS’ seniors haven’t tasted defeat to Mount Carmel in their careers, and it’s the first time North Schuylkill has defeated MCA three years in a row.
“Our kids are tough enough to grind stuff out,” Geist said. “If something goes wrong, they bounce right back.”
NOTES: North Schuylkill outrushed Mount Carmel, 214-107, for the game. Long ran for a team-high 79 yards for the Spartans and Adams had 36 yards on 16 carries. Henning threw for 115 yards on a 7-of-13 night.
The Spartan victory denied Mount Carmel its 800th victory in program history. The Red Tornadoes will try again to win #800 next weekend when they travel to Sunbury to take on Shikellamy.