By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP — Even if they were not aware of it coming in, all football coaches taking over the program at Shamokin are certainly made aware of that one game on the schedule that they need to find a way to win.
But no Indians coach in the last 17 years has been able to guide his team to a win over rival Mount Carmel in a series that dates to 1883.
First-year coach Yaacov Yisrael, the former Penn State standout, gets his first crack at the Coal Bucket Trophy when the Indians host their next-door neighbors, the Red Tornadoes, on Friday night.
This is certainly not a season in which most observers would give the Indians a fighting chance in this old rivalry. The Indians come into the Heartland Athletic Conference crossover game at 0-9 while the surging Red Tornadoes are 6-3 after surviving a three-game mid-season losing streak.
But, said Yisrael this week, “This is our bowl game. We have to put everything into this one.”
Mount Carmel coach Carmen DeFrancesco is much more of a veteran when it comes to Coal Bucket games. He has played and coached in the game for the Big Red, and also coached for the purple and white against his alma mater.
He admitted he felt pressure back then, and feels it again, to win this particular game.
“I put pressure on myself. Being a coach at Shamokin and not winning it once, people will ask ‘is Carm going to lose this game to Shamokin?’ There is pressure, but I don’t want the kids to feel it. But I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t feel it.”
DeFrancesco added that he has all the confidence in the world that his kids are going to play well Friday night.
Unlike the Indians, the Red Tornadoes are in the thick of the hunt for one of the four home games in the first round of the District 4 Class AA playoffs.
He said last week, despite a rash of injuries, his players fought for a tough win over Selinsgrove and have carried that sense of urgency into this week.
He said he was especially proud of the way his makeshift offensive line held up against the constant defensive pressure that Selinsgrove brings.
But he knows that, despite its record, Shamokin also has a lot at state this week.
“I’m sure a win for them would make their season and we are thinking that’s what the coaching staff is preaching.”
He said experience tells him that the game should be a competitive one and that no one talks about the records.
“We are expecting some new wrinkles and we have seen new wrinkles from them every week,” he said about the Indians.
“They have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose, so we are going to expect some plays and some formations and some defenses we haven’t seen yet,” DeFrancesco said.
Yisrael said, “I am thankful to have the opportunity to be part of such a strong traditional rivalry game. (In) a game with so much emotion involved, anything can happen; records go out the window.”
Yisrael said the Red Tornadoes have a lot of speed and aggression plus good coaching. “We will do our best to test them,” he said.
This is the last chance for Yisrael’s team to meet one of its season-long goals. “Mifflinburg (a 30-14 loss three weeks ago) was the closest game we had to putting a full game together. Our goal is to put a full game together against Mount Carmel.”