KENWOOD — Earlier this year, Marion Center exercised its warrior spirit and held its own at times in fast-paced games with unbeaten conference front-runners Homer-Center and Ligonier Valley.
But against their most impassioned rival, unbeaten Penns Manor, the undersized and outmuscled Stingers simply couldn’t keep pace.
Penns Manor outgained Marion Center 298-9 on the ground and scored on its first five drives en route to a 35-6 win in a Heritage Conference football game Friday at Pat Corrigan Field.
The Comets, one of three unbeaten teams in the conference, are 5-0 for the first time since 2009, the year they went 8-0 and won their first conference title. Penns Manor has won 45 of 50 games since 2009.
“We wanted to send a message tonight to everyone, just to let them know that we’re back and we’re here to play,” Penns Manor quarterback Luke Kowalski, who rushed for a game-high 100 yards on 12 carries, said.
Before Marion Center could blink, Kowalski put the Comets in position for their first score, returning the game’s opening kickoff 61 yards to the Stingers’ 29.
Six plays later, Kowalski plowed into the end zone from 1 yard with 9:33 to go in the first quarter to put the Comets ahead 7-0.
After forcing a three-and-out from Marion Center, Penns Manor drove 70 yards on 13 plays for another touchdown on its ensuing drive.
This time, running back Ethan Marshall dragged two defenders into the end zone from 4 yards to give Penns Manor a 14-0 lead with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “They were opening up some massive holes up front and getting their running game going. Realistically, you’ve got 250-260 (pounds) going up against 175, and we tried, but we couldn’t move them up front. That was the name of the game tonight.”
Running back Bailey Mumau capped a four-play, 62-yard drive with a 20-yard run with 8:24 to go in the second quarter. Mumau took a jet sweep handoff and darted around left end, galloping untouched into end zone to stretch Penns Manor’s lead to 21-0.
“All credit goes to the linemen on that. They just knew how to get the job done,” Mumau, who rushed for 62 yards on just six carries, said. “I love that play. We just get our guards out, and they seemed intimidated by them. It was sweet.”
On Penns Manor’s next drive, Tate scored on the same play from the same distance to stretch the lead to 28-0. Tate zoomed around right end and positioned himself behind lead blockers Steven Dumm and Marshall, who flattened a pair of defenders with pancake blocks.
Then, after stopping the Stingers’ fifth straight drive, the Comets marched 55 yards on eight plays to score another touchdown and take a 35-0 lead. Marshall bulled his way into the end zone from 4 yards with 7:02 to enforce the mercy rule and the running clock.
“People were thinking we were just going to have a good line this year, but you know what, these backs work hard,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “Louie Tate and Bailey Mumau are certainly a nice one-two punch, and our fullbacks, Kyle Krevel and Ethan Marshall, they run hard on the inside, so we feel we’re pretty well balanced with the running game. We still want to get better with our passing game, though.”
Colton Fairman put Marion Center on the board when he scored from 6 yards with 4:50 to go to make it 35-6.
The Comets didn’t have to punt and limited the Stingers to just two rushing first downs, finishing with 380 total yards to Marion Center’s 154.
“Our defense has really picked it up the last couple of weeks,” Packer said. “We’ve been getting better every week, and we’re tough on the run. Teams are having a hard time running on us. That defensive line is just so big and strong, and they’re doing a nice job. These kids are just really determined to win right now.”
Tate ran for 51 yards on eight carries, and Nathan Dumm caught three passes for 66 yards.
Marion Center quarterback Blake Orr completed 10 of 24 passes for 145 yards. Orr, who had four of his passes dropped, was sacked five times.