The Hilliard Darby High School football team is physically banged up and mentally frustrated as it prepares to play host to Mount Vernon in a non-league game Friday, Sept. 29.

The Panthers’ mental anguish stems from a 21-0 loss to Dublin Jerome in their OCC-Cardinal Division opener Sept. 22, as they held advantages over the Celtics in plays from scrimmage (68-33), first downs (19-6), total yards (273-164) and time of possession (32 minutes, 52 seconds to 15:08).

“It was a rough game and it’ll be a rough week for us,” coach John Santagata said. “The kids are frustrated and so are we. We’ve got to figure out why our execution is lacking during games and we’ve got to value ball security. Those are two things we always focus on, and we’re not getting that done.”

The Panthers faced Jerome without injured running backs Clint Barnett and Tony Santos and injured linebacker Tommy Clark. In addition, quarterback Henry Sopko left the game with an injury.

“We don’t have any updates as to how long we’ll be without those guys, but I have a feeling none of them will be ready for Mount Vernon,” Santagata said.

The hobbled Panthers are 2-3 and have lost two games in a row, while Mount Vernon also is 2-3 after falling to Ashland 35-21 on Sept. 22.

The Yellow Jackets are led by quarterback Jaxon Gregory, running backs Austin Elliott and Ashton Fisher and receiver Kaden Daniels, who had six receptions for 103 yards against Ashland.

The Panthers also must pay much attention to Mount Vernon’s Marcus Shellenbarger, a 6-foor-3, 230-pound defensive end who had five sacks in the Yellow Jackets’ 31-0 win over Newark on Sept. 1.

“Mount Vernon looks to be much better than they were last season,” said Santagata, whose team beat the Yellow Jackets 42-0 a year ago. “Their offense looks much crisper, and that defensive end has quick feet and is just explosive off the line.”

Against Jerome, the Panthers fumbled on the second play of the game at their own 15-yard line to set up a Celtics touchdown.

Trailing 14-0 after Jerome quarterback Hayden Schell scored on a 59-yard run, Darby marched downfield, only to fumble in the red zone. Jerome’s Wil Intihar scooped up the ball and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown.

“That was the biggest play of the game,” said Santagata, whose team also missed a field goal against the Celtics. “I was pleased to see our guys fill holes of some of our injured starters. I thought Jack Stultz came in and made good reads at quarterback. Charlie Freewalt and Carter Holt did well at blocking back (and) Frankie Sopko did a good job running the ball.

“Defensively, Donta Ashcraft continues to play well. He had eight tackles and a (tackle for loss) and Ian Coverstone had seven tackles. Ian also ran the ball well.”

Henry Sopko had 87 yards rushing on 14 carries before leaving the game and Coverstone had 66 yards on 14 rushes. Canyon Uphouse added 41 yards rushing on nine carries, Grant Hollinger had 34 yards on 10 carries.

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek