By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Brandon Carson, 5th season (21-25)
League/division: Mid-Penn Liberty
2019 record: 3-8 (3-6 Tri-Valley League)
Postseason: Lost to Troy 27-14 in District 4 Class 2A first round.
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TDs
Jacob Feese: 9-28, 213, 2
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Jacob Feese: 177-1,049, 5.9, 12
Receiving: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Aidan Herb: 19-375, 19.7, 5
Key Returning players: Dominick Bridi, sr., OG-DE; Jacob Feese, sr., QB-OLB; Garret Laudenslager, sr., RB-OLB; Cameron Smeltz, sr., WR-SS-K; Ki Phillips, sr., RB-ILB; Tyler Bradley, sr., WR-CB; Wyatt Shaffer, jr., OT-DT; Beau Keim, jr., RB-ILB; Aidan Herb, jr., WR-CB; Jace Hackenburg, jr., WR-SS.
Outlook: Unable to shake self-inflicted wounds such as turnovers and penalties, those inopportune mistakes bedeviled the Eagles for a second straight season in 2019. While the presence of Jacob Feese enabled Brandon Carson’s bunch to revive a ground game that had been inconsistent, Line Mountain’s passing game misfired repeatedly. So, if the Eagles can put both offensive elements together often enough — Carson’s bunch sports eight returning offensive starters — these guys can make a run at Liberty Division supremacy. Quite simply, early season positive results could light a lengthy fuse.
3 Things to Know:
1. Having Bridi back should provide options up front: Difficult to deal with when he’s rolling off the edge, 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior Dominick Bridi is big enough to cause all sorts of problems in the trenches yet athletic enough to line up at tight end if the Eagles want him there. Line Mountain’s top tackler (96) a season ago despite putting his hand in Tri-Valley League dirt every weekend, Bridi also posted a team-best 11 tackles for loss and registered 3.5 sacks. No wonder the four-year starter was tagged the Mid-Penn Liberty’s preseason defensive player of the year. And that’s coming off a junior campaign in which he landed TVL all-star honors on both sides of the ball. Imagine how happy brand new defensive line coach Ron Pratt had to be upon arriving from neighboring Shikellamy. Since Bridi will need to be accounted for on every snap, that could be the primary reason why ball-finding Jacob Feese likely will line up on the opposite end of the Mountain’s d-line. “We have two kids that really are physical and have a pretty good nose for finding the ball,” head coach Brandon Carson said. “With [Ki] Phillips and [Beau] Keim back at inside linebacker, those two guys can make plays right in front of them and then also kind of sideline to sideline. … We have a lot of kids that this will be their third year as starters, so it’s an experienced group.”
2. Feese hoping to refine passing skills as full-time QB: After gaining just over 1,000 yards while shifting between running back and quarterback — while averaging just south of 6 yards per crack — Carson & Co. are hoping Feese can stretch the field with his arm so the Eagles can avoid opponents opting to plan nine, 10 or even 11 defenders in the box. Since Line Mountain has several players out wide that can go yard at any time such as Garret Laudenslager, Aidan Herb and Cameron Smeltz, getting the ball in space or taking advantage of single coverage could add a dimension to an Eagles attack that’s been predictable. “Jacob worked really hard in the offseason on mechanics, and repetitions and trying to develop a little more finesse with some of his [throws] and touch where he needed touch,” Carson said. “So, he’s done a nice job understanding how some throws need to be thrown. We’re still working on some progression stuff and some pre-snap reads, but he has the ability to make all the throws. It’s just doing it consistently and then just understanding, from my standpoint, what he’s best at and make certain I take advantage of the stuff that he’s better at than other things.”
3. Early positive results could do wonders for experienced group: Despite qualifying for District 4’s Class 2A playoffs each of the past two seasons, Carson’s Eagles couldn’t avoid finishing with sub-.500 marks both years. What made last season’s finish even more difficult was Line Mountain closed the 2019 campaign with six consecutive setbacks. So, finding a way to skip past Camp Hill when the 2020 season finally gets going is a priority for a proud program with plenty of talent that goes into every year with expectations. Clipping backyard rivals Upper Dauphin and Halifax in Weeks 2 and 3 would be even better. “It’s pretty critical [to get off to a good start], because you just don’t want that doubt creeping in,” Carson said. “I want them to have a good feeling. Probably every coach is in the same boat, but if we can have some positive results early hopefully it steamrolls in the right direction.”