The Morning Call (Sunday)

Green Hornets make it 4 straight

Strong defense carries Emmaus over Hurricanes

- By Keith Groller

The Emmaus football team went 1-3 in its first four games this season, and the Green Hornets have now gone 4-0 in their last four.

The one constant in both fourgame stretches has been the play of two-way lineman Mario Landino.

The James Madison University recruit has played well all season, but may have never been better than he was Friday night in a 21-6 Emmaus win over Liberty on the Green Hornets’ Homecoming.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound tackle was involved in 13 tackles, six solo, and had six stops for loss including a sack. He also broke up a pass and blocked a punt.

In a ragged game that featured numerous injuries, blocked kicks and penalties, his play remained at a high level and was one of the biggest reasons Emmaus was able to improve to 5-3 overall, 3-3 in the EPC South with Freedom and Parkland still to play in the regular season.

“In the first half, I didn’t have the half I wanted and I came out and was really upset at myself,” Landino said. “I give credit to

Coach [Pete] Verile because he really hyped me up and said ‘Go make a freakin’ play for once.’ I was like ‘OK coach.’ I got into my head and just did what I had to do and I have to play like that every week.”

Landino’s play on defense and special teams was needed because the Emmaus offense had trouble putting away Liberty, which lost its sixth straight game and fell to 2-6 overall, 0-6 EPC South with Whitehall and Freedom left on its schedule.

The Hurricanes got a goal-line stop and blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt only trailed 7-0 at halftime.

They fought back after Emmaus extended the lead to 14-0 with 6:57 left in the third period on a 2-yard run by quarterbac­k Josiah Williams to cap a 3-play, 21-yard drive set up by Landino’s blocked punt.

Liberty got a 7-yard TD pass on fourth down as Caden Vermuelen found Anthony Vega with 10:57 left in regulation, but Emmaus made it a two-score game again on the first play of its next possession as senior Riley Giuffre ran free through the left side for a 70-yard thunderbol­t of a touchdown with 10:42 to go.

“We had originally run a jet sweep to the right for a touchdown earlier and that play sort of set mine up,” Giuffre said. “We had to be patient and ran an outside zone and I hit the gap. It was there.”

That closed the scoring as the Green Hornets defense stopped Hurricanes drives to the Emmaus 7 and 20.

Giuffre credited the offensive line featuring Landino, Brody McHugh, George Attar, T.J. Ashelman, Ben Mercado and Ryan Nimas for coming up big on that play and at various points in the game.

“They do their job out there and they set up these runs,” Giuffre said. “It starts off in practice. We want to make sure we have a great day in practice throughout the week. Every day matters. We don’t want to miss on one day. Starting 1-3 hurt us. We’re not used to that kind of start. So, that really made us want to come back and show the Lehigh Valley that we’ve still got it.”

Landino, who entered the game with 55 tackles, including 10 for loss and two sacks, showed he never lost it.

“He has had an outstandin­g season offensivel­y, defensivel­y, on special teams,” Emmaus coach Harold Fairclough said. “He never comes out and he’s having a hell of a year and he’s a hell of a player. It’s hard on him because teams are trying to run away from him and scheme against him. There were a couple of plays tonight where he ran it down coming from the opposite side. For a kid with that kind of size, you don’t see that very often.”

Fairclough acknowledg­ed it was the wasn’t the cleanest of perfomance­s by his team. The Green Hornets were penalized 11 times for 118 yards and were only 4-for11 on either third or fourth down conversion­s.

But he said: “We’ll take it. We’ve got a lot in front of us and the goal is to go 1-0 every week.”

Despite the final score, Liberty coach Shawn Daignault saw a lot of positives from his team. The Hurricanes were without sophomore standout Jake Pukszyn, their leading receiver and one of the top pass-catchers in the EPC. He suffered an injury in practice on Thursday and tried to go before Daignault pulled him after a couple of snaps.

“He tried it out in pregame and he would have gutted it out, but I don’t know how effective he would have been,” Daignault said. “After about two snaps I pulled the plug. I am not going to jeopardize a kid’s future on one night. He certainly would have helped us, but I’ve got to give lot of credit to the guys who stepped up like sophomore Billy Reese who went from playing on Mondays in JV games to playing every snap in a varsity game and played well. We drew a lot of pass interferen­ce calls on Emmaus and a lot of them came on plays where they were trying to guard him.”

Without Pukszyn the Liberty relied heavily on sophomore running back Gabe Green, but he was limited to 35 yards on 15 carries.

Daignault said his team has come a long way this season despite the record showing just two wins as it did last year.

“I’d go to battle with these kids any day of the week,” he said. “We’re a little banged up up right now but they battle and now we have to regroup and get ready for a game on a short week.”

Liberty hosts Whitehall at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Zephyrs will have even a shorter week since they don’t play their Week 8 game until 7 p.m. Saturday at J. Birney Crum Stadium.

 ?? MORNING CALL RICK KINTZEL/THE ?? Emmaus senior Mario Landino had a big night on both the offensive and defensive lines and blocked a punt in the Green Hornets’ 21-6 win over Liberty on Friday night at East Penn School District Stadium. It was his team’s fourth straight win after a 1-3 start.
MORNING CALL RICK KINTZEL/THE Emmaus senior Mario Landino had a big night on both the offensive and defensive lines and blocked a punt in the Green Hornets’ 21-6 win over Liberty on Friday night at East Penn School District Stadium. It was his team’s fourth straight win after a 1-3 start.

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