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Frustration mountsEphrata falls to 0-8 with loss to Hempfield
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
In a season of frustrating moments, Friday’s 35-21 Homecoming loss to Hempfield ranked right up there for Ephrata.
The Mounts, looking for their first win of the year, had a legitimate chance to do so after quarterback Jeremy Franck connected with tight end Kevin Sollenberger on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 7:33 to go to draw them to within seven.
All the Mounts needed was a defensive stop, and that elusive first win would have been in reach. Unfortunately, they simply didn’t get it done.
Hempfield embarked on a seven-play (all run) drive that ended with a 22-yard TD run by running back Joe Gamble with 3:40 to play to clinch the Black Knight victory. That drive summed up a frustrating night for the Mounts, who allowed 356 yards on the ground which led to their eighth-straight loss of the season.
"We needed to stop them on defense," Ephrata Coach Jim Vieland said. "That’s something we haven’t been able to do all year, really. We haven’t stopped the running game."
"We aren’t the biggest team in the world and we aren’t the deepest team. Our guys just got a little worn down I think. I don’t question their hearts. I think they played hard but we weren’t able to stop the running game."
While the defense struggled in the run game, it didn’t help that the Mounts made three huge mistakes in special teams that resulted in 21 of Hempfield’s 35 points.
The first one occurred on the opening kickoff when Hempfield (3-5) successfully recovered an onside kick at the Mountaineer 40. Seven plays later, quarterback Michael Murr (18 carries, 119 yards) called his own number from five yards out to give his squad the early 7-0 lead.
The Mounts settled down and put together an impressive drive of their own to tie the game midway through the second quarter. Tim Murray, who rushed for 80 yards on 11 carries, toted the ball six times for 26 yards on the 10-play drive that started at the Mountaineer 20. After Franck scrambled for 37 yards and a big first down, Murray ran it in from five yards out four plays later to knot the game at 7-7.
However, it stayed that way for a whole 16 seconds as Hempfield’s Austin Sensenig returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards down the left sidelines for a score that put his team back up by seven.
Then, on Hempfield’s kickoff following the score, the Black Knights’ Will Hollis pounced on a fumble by Murray at the Ephrata 30. Two plays later, Gamble made it 21-7 with a five yard score.
"That was three short fields we gave them," Vieland said of the special teams blunders. "And those were their (first) three scores. That is a big phase of the game and they capitalized on those short fields. Give credit to them for that."
The Ephrata defense, which forced just one Hempfield punt the entire night, did make a big play early in the third when Bobby Nye recovered a Murr fumble in Mountaineer territory at the 36.
The Mounts’ offense then kicked into gear, driving 64 yards in 15 plays to draw to within 21-14. Fullback Alex Pstrak (14-55) finished it off with 2:56 remaining in the third on a three-yard plunge.
The teams then traded scores early in the fourth as Murr scored on a 23-yard scramble around left end while Franck (8-15-0, 94 yards) hit Sollenberger for his 16-yard touchdown.
But the Black Knights, basically running the same play which called for Murr to read whether to keep or give it to Gamble, ground out the win with their decisive score with 3:40 to go.
"I really felt if we could get the ball back by getting a stop or turnover like we did early in the second half that we should be able to do something," Vieland said of the final Hempfield drive. "But we didn’t, and then you are down two scores with three minutes to go and you are in your two-minute offense. Then you can’t do the things you want to do."
That meant keeping it on the ground, but Franck still was able to move the Mounts down the field on Ephrata’s final drive. Unfortunately, facing a fourth-and-one at the Hempfield 26 with 2:34 to play, Franck called his own number and was stopped short, and the Black Knights took over and ran out the clock.
Ephrata now has just two chances left to avoid posting its second 0-10 season since Vieland took over four seasons ago. To make matters worse, the Mounts have currently lost 15 straight games dating back to last year.
The good news is they face a pair of struggling teams over the final two weeks. They hit the road to face Cedar Crest (1-7) Friday night in Cornwall before closing out the season at home next week against McCaskey (2-6).
"The frustration is mounting," Vieland admitted when asked about the losing streak. "It’s frustrating for everybody. The bottom line is, the message is to get better every week and every week presents an opportunity to win another game. And that’s what we are striving for here. We have two opponents, just like Hempfield that we are right in there with. We just have to get things to go our way a little better and stop teams running the football down our throats." More FRUSTRATION, page B-6