H.S. FOOTBALL: Bobcats regroup, rally past Stingers
MARION CENTER — Marion Center’s defense contained one cog in Blairsville’s two-head offensive monster.
Unfortunately for the Stingers, essentially spoiling the night of Bobcats quarterback Scott Thompson didn’t do the trick.
The Stingers intercepted Thompson three times and limited the 6-foot-2, 200-pound workhorse to just 35 yards on 16 carries. Marion Center wasn’t so lucky in slowing down speedy running back Deion Robinson, though.
Robinson ran wild on the Stingers, racking up 192 yards and two touchdowns and running in the game-winning score in a 20-14 win in a Heritage Conference football game Friday at Dr. John R. Mallino Stadium.
The win marked the first under new head coach Rick Artley, a 15-year assistant who replaced his mentor, Ab Dettorre. Dettorre resigned in the offseason following a 26-year rein.
“As a team, we showed up in the second half,” Artley said. “I knew we had the ability, and I knew we had the athletes, but it was gut check. Most years if you throw three interceptions up here you’re down three scores at half. So to still be in it and to get the ball in the second half and drive straight down the field in less than three minutes and score, that set the tempo of the second half.”
Robinson ran four times for 38 yards on the opening drive of the game. He put Blairsville on the board and made it a 6-0 by scoring from 18 yards.
Marion Center answered on its first possession of the second quarter and scored on a fourth-and-10 from the Blairsville 19. A play-action fake from quarterback Blake Orr froze the Bobcats’ secondary, allowing running back Noah Hoover to catch a pass in the right flat with no defenders in sight. Hoover then ran untouched down the sideline for a 19-yard touchdown to knot the game 6-6 with 8:49 left in the first half.
Marion Center marched 55 yards on six plays and ended its next drive with another touchdown. Orr scored on first-and-goal from the 4 on a quarterback sneak to make it 12-6 with 4:06 left in the first half.
Orr then hit James Holley out of the backfield on the two-point conversion attempt to stretch Marion Center’s lead to 14-6.
“You can’t win it in the first half, but a lot of times you can lose it,” Artley said. “We realized we almost blew it in that first half, but to have the opportunity to just be down eight, I think they understood up front that we could do the same thing on that first drive of the second half that we did on the first drive of the game.”
Robinson set the tone on the first play of the second half when he raced 28 yards down the left sideline. Five plays later, Thompson bounced off a pair of defenders and scored from 2 yards on second-and-goal to trim Marion Center’s lead to 14-12 with 9:16 left in the third.
Then, on the first play of their last drive of the third quarter, Robinson galloped 51 yards untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 18-14 with 3:09 to go in the quarter. Robinson extended Blairsville’s lead to 20-14 by scoring on an inside handoff on the two-point conversion.
“I wouldn’t even consider that a hole. I think that was a tunnel,” Robinson, who in last year’s opener against Marion Center was limited to 48 yards on 11 carries, said. “It was straight down (and) wide open. My job is to run, and that’s all I had to do, and it was easy. I was just following that line and leaning on that line.”
Blairsville forced turnovers on each of Marion Center’s final three possessions.
First, Marion Center running back Colton Fairman fumbled an exchange with Orr, allowing a Blairsville player to recover with 2:23 left in the third quarter.
Following a Blairsville turnover on downs and on a second-and-9 from the Marion Center 49, Bobcats defensive back Cameron Livingston intercepted an Orr pass in the middle of the field and returned it 35 yards to the Stingers’ 19.
Marion Center forced another turnover on downs and put itself in position to take the lead by executing its longest play from scrimmage on a third down. On a third-and-19 at his own 5, Orr and Hoover hooked up on the same play-action pass that yielded a touchdown in the second quarter. This time, Hoover corralled Orr’s pass and bolted 79 yards down the right sideline, eventually getting caught from behind by Livingston.
Livingston’s touchdown-saving tackle proved significant on the next play as Marion Center running back John Lucas lost a fumble that Robinson recovered at the 16.
Blairsville notched five first downs on its last drive, including four on runs, to seal the win.
“We had some missed opportunities,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “We had that big play, that big flare to Noah there, and then the next play we fumble. It was just a lot of little things. But they overcame them and we didn’t, and they made plays and we didn’t.”
Robinson also spearheaded the Blairsville defense with two sacks, a fumble recovery and three tackles for a loss from his outside linebacker post. He also caught four passes for 43 yards.
Thompson finished 9 of 15 passing for 110 yards.
Lucas paced Marion with 76 yards on 11 carries. Hoover caught two passes for 98 yards. He also ran for 32 yards on 10 attempts.
Artley admitted to feeling relieved after the game but claimed that winning as Dettorre’s assistant felt just as sweet.
“I don’t feel any different than when I was coaching with Coach Dettorre,” Artley said. “You put everything into it whether you’re an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator or volunteer assistant. It’s a team win, and honestly, you’d think maybe it would feel different, but it really doesn’t. On paper, I guess I’m 1-0, but really as a team, it just doesn’t feel different to me.”
PHOTO: Deion Robinson pulled away from Marion Center's John Lucas during a 192-yard rushing effort for Blairsville.