By Lisa Byers
When reigning Meadville Tribune player of the year Chad Eisenhooth was carried off the field with an ankle injury in Week 3, Cochranton head coach Nate Liberty said a lot of people suspected the team would fall apart.
But while the Cardinals did suffer a couple of bumps and bruises along the way, Liberty said the injury has brought the Cardinals closer together. And now Cochranton is ready to tackle one of its biggest obstacles of the season: West Middlesex.
“We’re ready,” Liberty said. “We’ve had a good week of practice. The boys seem upbeat …”
Cochranton faces the Big Reds at 7 p.m. tonight at Hickory High School.
The Cardinals enter the game at 6-3 and as the third place team out of Region 2. The Big Reds are 6-4 and finished tied for second with Mercer for second place in Region 1.
Despite owning the better overall record, Cochranton knows it has its work cutout against the Big Reds.
“They are a very good football team,” Liberty said. “On defense, they fly to the ball. They have some key players who are pretty good.
“They have been in a lot of big games, too. That helps them throughout the season.”
Two of those key players the Cardinals will need to focus on are quarterback Trey Staunch and tailback Eric Lucich.
Lucich has rushed for 1,183 yards and 13 touchdowns on 130 carries for the 2012 District 10 Class A runner-up. And as good as he is on the offensive side of the ball, he might be even better defensively.
“He is pretty good,” Liberty said. “He’s big, hard to take down. He’s the lead on the football team. But what shouldn’t be overlooked is he is a great linebacker.”
As for Staunch, he has completed 97 of 186 passes for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns. He does have nine interceptions. If there is one thing Cochranton’s defense should be pretty accustomed to, though, it’s defending a solid quarterback. They practice against one each and every day.
Eisenhooth, who is back and healthy, has completed 47 of 87 passes for 814 yards, an average of around one yard per game better than Staunch. He has 10 touchdown passes and has thrown just one interception.
“He’s ready,” Liberty said. “He has worked really hard to get back. I’m proud of him and the way he has dealt with this season. For only playing six games and to have the numbers he has this year, it’s pretty crazy actually.”
Cochranton is making its second straight postseason appearance for the first time in program history. The Cardinals are charged to make this one to remember.
“I think we finally have some kids on the team who don’t want the season to end,” Liberty said.
Cochranton and West Middlesex have one common opponent: Region 1 champion Lakeview. The Cards lost to the Sailors 62-8. The Big Reds fell victim by a 19-2 score.