By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
MOUNT CARMEL — It’s no secret that Mount Carmel struggled on the defensive side of the ball last season.
So coach Carm DeFrancesco switched to a 3-4 defense in the offseason, away from the Oklahoma 5-2.
And if the first two games of the season are any indication, his players have had no problems with the change.
After an opening-night shutout, the Red Tornadoes defense limited Lewisburg to just eight rushing yards until its final two drives, while quarterback Zach Wasilewski accounted for three touchdowns as Mount Carmel downed Lewisburg 30-14 in a Heartland Athletic Conference Division II contest at the Silver Bowl.
The Red Tornadoes (2-0 overall, 1-0 HAC-II) used a dominating second half to secure the victory. After gaining just 49 yards in the opening half, the Mount Carmel offense had 162 yards in the second half, which was more than enough for the Mount Carmel defense on Friday night.
Lewisburg (1-1, 0-1) gained 56 of its game total of 64 yards rushing on its final two possessions, when Mount Carmel led 30-8. The Red Tornadoes also did an outstanding job on pass defense, despite just one sack. Its constant pressure forced Lewisburg quarterback Nick Costagliola to hurry throws and forced an intentional grounding in the end zone. When the Green Dragons were able to complete a pass, they averaged just 8.9 yards per catch. Subtract a 25-yard TD pass and a 21-yard pass for a first down and Lewisburg averaged 6.1 yards per catch.
The Green Dragons’ defense was just as stout, allowing just one drive in the game, the Red Tornadoes opening march of the second half. Lewisburg was hindered by its special teams’ play at times with a blocked punt in the end zone resulting in a touchdown, plus a long return setting up the opening touchdown by the Red Tornadoes.
"Last week we won the special teams battle and we made some mistakes at critical times (on special teams tonight)," Lewisburg coach Jeremy Winn said. "It wasn’t just special teams, our offense didn’t play very well. I thought we were going in the right direction on the offensive line, but obviously we have some things to work on."
Neither team picked up a first down on the first four possessions of the game before the Green Dragons were forced to punt deep from the own territory midway through the first quarter. Blake Panko returned a punt 33 yards, set up by a block by Glenn Barwicki that took out two Lewisburg defenders, to the Green Dragons’ 16. Wasilewski hit Juwan Sullins on a slant pattern on the very next play to give Mount Carmel a 7-0 lead.
The next Mount Carmel score came when the Green Dragons were again punting from deep in their own territory. Luke Smith made a leaping grab of a high snap, but had his punt blocked. Dylan Patrick fell on the ball with 9:56 left in the first half to give the Red Tornadoes a 13-0 lead.
A turnover got Lewisburg back into the game. Drew Newcomb picked off Wasilewski — the junior safety’s fourth interception of the young season — to give Lewisburg the ball on the Mount Carmel 36. Two Costagliola passes to Dante Taylor — one for 11 yards and the second for a 25-yard touchdown — brought Lewisburg back to 13-8 after Costagliola’s two-point conversion run with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
It looked like Lewisburg was back into the game as its defense limited the Mount Carmel offense to just 23 total yards and one first down, despite trailing by one score.
The second half was all Red Tornadoes as they took the opening kickoff and marched 69 yards in seven plays to open up a 21-8 lead. Wasilewski hit Treyvon White with a 31-yard pass on the opening play, then found Christian Kelley in the back of the end zone on a fourth-and-four from the Lewisburg 9 for the touchdown. Wasilewski then found Kelley again for the two-point conversion.
"We went in a halftime and said look ‘we’re the better team, but it was only five points.’ We had to get the guys to understand that we let Lewisburg stay in the game," Mount Carmel coach Carm DeFrancesco said. "We had focus on our assignments and just do our jobs. That’s exactly what we did in the second. That drive to open the third quarter was just huge."
The Red Tornadoes added a safety with 11:45 left in the game on an intentional grounding in the end zone, then used a nine-play drive to clinch the game with a Wasilewski one-yard TD run after the free kick to open up a 30-8 lead with 8:36 left as Lewisburg had managed just one first down until that point in the second half.