MALVERN - Kyle Steiner returned the opening kick-off 97 yards for East Mills’ only touchdown in a 10-7 season-opening loss to Shenandoah on Friday in Malvern.
Shenandoah’s defense held the Wolverines offense scoreless in a defensive battle of two schools that have never met on the football field.
“I told the kids we will never be disappointed with effort,” said East Mills coach Andy Irwin after the game. “And that’s what we gave tonight. If we can give this good of effort all year we should be fine.”
Both teams’ effort on offense got them very little results in the first half with the Wolverines taking a 7-3 lead into the break thanks to Steiner’s special teams score. It was the Mustangs who came out determined in the second half to find the end zone.
After taking the kick-off at their own 30, the Mustangs marched 70 yards in six plays to go up 10-7 when Jackson Baker connected with Sam Kroepel on a 39-yard scoring dart.
The drive ate up more than seven minutes of clock and flipped the momentum in the favor of the Class 2A Mustangs.
“They did a good job executing their offense, a real vanilla offense, by attacking one spot in the line,” said Irwin of the Mustangs’ tightly grouped running offense that attempted to exploit the middle of the Wolverines’ defensive line. “Losing David (Howell) in the first couple of plays was huge for us. We didn’t have the strength to come up with but I was happy with how our guys filled in spots.”
The Wolverines lost Howell, a 6-foot, 255-pound junior defensive tackle, on the game’s first defensive series to an apparent knee injury. He did not return.
Shenandoah attempted an on-side kick on the ensuing kick-off following its touchdown but the Wolverines were ready and took control of the ball with good field position at their own 46. But East Mills couldn’t capitalize and was forced to punt five plays later.
East Mills forced a Mustang punt on the next possession and proceeded to move the ball from their own 16 to the Shenandoah 48 but the drive was stopped when Caleb Barney was stuffed on a fourth-and-two. Shenandoah took over the ball with 6:30 to go in the game and didn’t give the ball back until just 1:25 remained.
But the Wolverines wouldn’t go away so easily. Taking over at the 11- yard line and with no timeouts, senior quarterback Austin Sommerla attempted to engineer a comeback. After gaining a first down with :57.4 left, Sommerla appeared to connect with speedy running back Nick Pittmon on a deep pass but the ball was batted down at the last minute to prevent a sure game-winning score.
Following a 10-yard loss on a sack, Sommerla found Travis Tupper on a 33-yard strike to get down to the Mustang 39. After a spike to kill the clock with :1.8 left, Sommerla’s final pass to the end zone was knocked away.
Irwin was proud to see his team fight to the end.
“I knew we had some decent speed with our receivers and our passing game. We’re working on getting better at that. We’ve just not been able to put it all together yet. But I was happy with a couple of those pass plays. We had good pass protection and we had guys open. It’s something we can expand on.”