By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
The Rams football team will try to slow a potent passing attack in Friday's conference opener.
Mt. Vernon (2-1) travels to Belleville where its will face Althoff (1-2) at Lindenwood University. The Crusaders enter the game after watching Mascoutah rally past them in the final quarter last week.
“I'm sure they've had a tough week of practice and prepared for us,” Mt. Vernon football coach Jared Shaner said. “They got second in state last year, made a deep run and had a nice season. I don't care who you lose, if you're going that deep in the playoffs, you're a good football program. You don't go from that level to being a bad team or a bad program in one season.”
Four-year starter and quarterback Eric Mertens will be a central focus for the Rams defense. Mertens has already attempted more than 100 passes this season through three games. Two of his favorite targets are Keenan Young and Luke Frazier.
“They just have some weapons at receiver and running back,” Shaner said. “They have a lot of kids who have some experience from last year's team, and they're just fast, athletic. They get them the ball in open space, and it's tough bringing them down.”
Shaner said defensive pressure will be key, but he doesn't expect the experienced Mertens to get rattled no matter what happens in the game.
“This kid has a ton of experience,” Shaner said. “I don't know if you're going to rattle him to the point where he's making poor decisions or anything. But if you can just speed up a quarterback … it can be huge. It can be the difference between a perfectly placed ball, which he can do a lot or maybe just one that's just a little bit off one way or the other.”
The Rams have had success this season putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks with nine sacks this season.
“Our (defensive) line has been a bright spot for us,” Shaner said. “I think those guys have done a good job. Coach (Troy) Medvick our new guy on staff is doing a nice job with them, and they are getting out and playing well.”
Pressure might be more challenging for the Rams this week because of how quick the Crusaders' passing game works, and it emphasis on short receiving routes.
“Hopefully our (defensive) line will come to play on Friday, and get after him a little bit,” Shaner said.
The Rams are riding a two-game win streak entering Friday's matchup after victories against Mascoutah and Triad. In both games the Rams controlled the ball and ran it effectively. Last week against the Knights, Mt. Vernon was turnover free.
Shaner said solid perimeter blocking and limiting turnovers remain a focus for the team along with minimizing dead ball penalties like formation violations and false starts.
Friday's game starts at 7 p.m.