MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon wanted this game. It needed this victory.
The last week of September seems a wee bit early for a “must-win” game, but a tough non-district game left the Mustangs with one win through four weeks and the district opener was against the same team that knocked them out a year ago.
The Mustangs claimed the crucial contest and exacted a little revenge in the process, defeating West Liberty 31-14 in a Class 2A District 5 prep football game Thursday night at First Street Field.
“We knew we had to win this one to get in the playoffs,” said Mount Vernon quarterback Brady Ketchum, who threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns. “We were a little mad about last year and them taking that one away from us. It was great to come out and get a win.”
The Mustangs (2-3) opened the season with three 3A opponents, including highly-ranked Solon. The only alternative is coming away with a district title with the recent qualifying changes.
“It’s a good win for us,” Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen said. “For us, we know we’re out of the RPI system for the playoffs. The only chance we have to make it back is win the district. That is something we’re shooting for and hopefully that will happen.”
Mount Vernon started and closed well, scoring the first 14 points and the final 17. The Mustangs converted some big pass plays, including two from Ketchum to Noah Erickson.
The first was a 62-yard strike for a 14-0 lead with 1:16 to play in the first quarter. Erickson out-ran single coverage and Ketchum placed the ball on his fingertips, allowing him to pull away from the defender.
They connected on the same play in a tie game with 9:04 left in the fourth.
Ketchum and the coaches conversed about isolating Erickson. The result was an 85-yard TD pass and the Mustangs began to pull away.
Erickson reeled in four catches for 183 yards.
“We had the safety rolling over the top to take the trips side,” Ketchum said. “Erickson is a heck of an athlete. He can make a play whenever. I just had to throw it up to him and he’ll go get the ball.”
Ketchum added a 44-yard TD pass to Collin Swantz with six minutes left and Cael Crawford iced the win with a 35-yard field goal in the final minute.
Mount Vernon was able to establish the rush game as well. Trenton Pitlik powered the attack with 170 yards on the ground, including 127 before half. Pitlik put the Mustangs on the board on their first possession with a 4-yard TD run, capping an 82-yard, 13-play drive that melted 5:03 off the clock.
“Trent Pitlik did a great job running for us tonight,” Pedersen said. “We moved and the guys did a nice job blocking.”
Mount Vernon’s defense came up big. Nolan Brand forced a fumble in the fourth that Aydan Holub-Schultz recovered as West Liberty drove to take the lead. The Mustangs parlayed that and a turnover on downs on West Liberty’s next possession into TDs.
“Our defense was solid,” Pedersen said. “We gave up 14 points but the offense gave up one.”
West Liberty’s lone first-half touchdown was set up by a Brodie Kilburn interception at the Mount Vernon 17. Three plays later, Talen Dengler hit Gavin Chown for a 17-yard touchdown, making it 14-7 with 4:23 to go before the half.
Will Esmoil ran for a 3-yard score in the third.
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