Gush, Pepper lead Muncy to road win
ALMEDIA — The percentages say when it is fourth-and-5, teams should pass. But Muncy trusted its offensive line and running backs when those situations arrived Saturday, so the decisions were easy.
Ethan Gush took a late second-quarter fourth-and-5 toss 40 yards, setting up a touchdown. A quarter later, Gush again burst through a gaping fourth-down hole, scoring a 10-yard touchdown. Whatever the down, Muncy ran at will yesterday. Gush and Paul Pepper both topped 160 yards and the offensive line dominated at Wen Cerra Memorial Field as Muncy defeated CMVT, 54-28. The Indians (5-3, 4-0 NTL-II) produced 415 of their 510 yards on the ground, scored 47 points in the middle quarters, won their second straight and set up a winner-take-all showdown for the league title next Friday against visiting Sayre.
“When it’s fourth down and it’s quite a distance we can run the ball,” lineman Dakota Haueisen said. “That shows the confidence we have.”
“When it’s fourth-and-5 and you’re even thinking about running as a definite possibility it helps your playbook that much more. It makes it a lot harder for teams to stop stuff,” Muncy coach Sean Tetreault said. “When you have backs like Ethan Gush and Bailey Hadzinikolov lead blocking and Paul Pepper running, too, it makes it easier calling plays sometimes. You want to get into space and hopefully some guys will make some plays for you.”
Muncy’s running backs did that all afternoon as the Indians shook off a sluggish start and a 6-0 second-quarter deficit. Muncy scored touchdowns on its final eight possessions, all coming on the ground. Pepper ran for a career-high 163 yards, Gush a career-high 162 and freshman Elijah Weikle added 56 yards and three touchdowns. Gush’s 40-yard fourth-down run set up his 2-yard score which capped a 27-point unanswered second-quarter flurry. His 10-yard fourth-down touchdown run came following a CMVT touchdown and put Muncy up, 40-20. Pepper and Weikle added touchdowns on the next two series as Muncy went up, 54-20.
It all started up front with Haueisen, Cael Hembury, Isaac Harris, Mason Hillman, Gavin Hillman and tight end Nate Palmatier exploding off the ball and constantly getting strong pushes. Gavin Hillman replaced injured Travis Fogleman and the line built off last week’s strong performance in an Old Shoe victory against Montgomery. The linemen opened holes and the running backs took it from there often gaining yards after contact.
“We help them, they help us. We block good, they run good,” Hembury said. “We’ve been getting better every single week and we’ll continue to get better. Gavin stepped in and he’s doing well for us.”
“We came out and got the job done. That was our goal,” Haueisen said. “It’s tough without Travis because he was a good component to our offensive line, but we got our backup in there and Gavin Hillman is doing his job.”
CMVT (3-5, 1-4) showed both good fight and resourcefulness. Caleb Dawson returned a fumble 52 yards for the game’s first touchdown, threw two touchdowns to Owen Reichner and caught a touchdown from running back Mekhi Mundrick. The Rams did all they could trying to pull and upset, but Muncy’s overpowering running game kept Muncy in control from the second quarter on.
The Indians ran for 257 yards in last week’s Montgomery win and built off that performance. So did Gush who both reached a career-high in yards and scored three touchdowns for a second straight week, giving him 321 yards during that time. Pepper also continues coming on strong and broke a series of big runs throughout the game while scoring twice. Collectively, Muncy averaged 9.4 yards per carry and totaled 15 runs that covered 11 or more yards. Pepper ignited the first touchdown drive with a 35-yard run, then scored on a 7-yard burst.
Branson Eyer threw for 95 yards and Christian Good caught three passes, but the running game’s effectiveness allowed Eyer to rest his arm in the second half. Muncy totaled 21 first downs and topped 100 yards in each quarter. Fittingly, Weikle put an exclamation point on Muncy’s performance, battling his way toward a 24-yard touchdown.
“It was tough coming up on a Saturday because we’re just not used to that, but we got it going after the first quarter and they couldn’t stop us. We were running hard,” Hembury said. “We didn’t get our heads down whatsoever. We knew we were the better football team so we knew if we kept playing hard we would win.”
Hembury led the defensive charge and spent most of his day in the CMVT backfield. Hembury made four tackles for loss and combined with fellow lineman James Schoonmaker to make 11 tackles. Hembury forced a first-quarter interception that set up Muncy’s first scoring drive and was key in Muncy limiting the running game CMVT takes so much pride in. The Rams produced 50 yards on 34 carries and Schoonmaker, Gush and Palmatier all had sacks.
“Cael Hembury has been huge for us all year at our defensive end spot. He’s done a great job anchoring that strong side of our d-line and he’s been forcing everybody to run to that weak side which always helps out our defensive scheme,” Tetreault said. “It’s great to see him having that success and seeing it translate on the field every week because he’s been a big part of of what we’re trying to do.”