By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON — The Rams defense will have the task of trying to contain another dual threat quarterback when Marion comes to town Friday night.
Brant Hill possesses the capability of hurting opponents with his legs or his arm through the air.
“We watched the Harrisburg game,” Mt. Vernon coach Jared Shaner said. “He can run and throw.”
Shaner compared Hill's running style to Triad quarterback Jason Barbour. Mt. Vernon faced the Knights in its only home game of the season so far. Barbour was a consistent and menacing threat in the game. He finished 97 yards on 20 carries.
“What I keep seeing from (Hill) on film is you feel like it's a run where you did pretty good (defensively), and you thought it was a two or three yard gain and all of a sudden he has six,” Shaner said. “Or you thought, 'Hey we probably should have tackled him at six yards' and all of a sudden he has 11. You never seem to get a good shot on him.”
Hill and the Wildcats operate a spread-style of offense. It will be the fourth time in five weeks of action the Rams defense has faced this type of offense. Hill moves the ball around to several different receivers within the passing attack.
“There's not one guy that I think is going to catch 15 balls on you and completely dominate the game, but they'll also spread it out and throw to four or five different kids, which makes you defense obviously the whole field and you can't focus on one kid,” Shaner said.
Marion's football program has been one of the most consistent in Southern Illinois over the past decade. The Wildcats have made eight straight playoff appearances under the leadership of coach Kerry Martin. During that same span, the Wildcats have won at least seven games each season.
“I think that's a program, if you're trying to emulate it and you get somewhere close, that's pretty good,” Shaner said. “And the reason I say that is just kind of those same factors.
“You know what you're going to get from them. They're very well coached every year.”
Shaner and the Rams will try to clean up some of the unevenness of Friday's game against Althoff. The Rams started the game by knocking the ball out of bounds on the opening kickoff. Mt. Vernon also racked up eight penalties for 65 yards. Five came in the opening half.
“Little things like that were frustrating last week and hopefully we can work on those a little bit and come out a little sharper this week,” Shaner said.
The Rams rallied past Althoff with 20 points in the final seven minutes. All of Mt. Vernon's scores came on runs from Demontez Miller-Gray. Jacob Williamson also provided a critical interception of Althoff quarterback Eric Mertens in the final minute to aid the Rams' cause.
The Crusaders forced the Rams away from its rushing attack in the opening half last week, but quarterback Dylan Reeves was able to strike through the air. Shaner said the ability to show versatility on offense was a positive for the Rams.
“(We) did enough to show that we can throw the ball,” Shaner said. “Obviously, primarily that's not what we want to do, but when push comes to shove and we need to we can be efficient at it.
“I was happy in that regard because Althoff's defense did do a good job. They shut us down a little bit early on in the game running-wise.”
The Rams are off to their best start to a season at 3-1 since 2006. Mt. Vernon has played three of its four games on the road to start the season. Shaner said the return to J.D. Shields Memorial Stadium is refreshing for his Rams.
“The season feels long already,” Shaner said. “We've only played four games, three of them on the road. So we get to come back home. I think there's beginning to be a little bit of a buzz in the community, getting off on the right foot and playing a little bit better football than we have.
“I don't think we've had (a game) in the last couple years that I've been in or the few previous years where we're going to get the crowd that we have on Friday night. I really feel like it's going to be a great atmosphere.”
Friday's game starts at 7 p.m.