H.S. FOOTBALL: Ligonier airs it out against Marion Center
LIGONIER — Marion Center scrapped valiantly to contest Ligonier Valley’s potent offense, a balanced attack spearheaded by the talented quarterback-tight end tandem of Scott Fennell and Alec Bloom.
Unfortunately for the Stingers, it took just three big hookups from Fennell to Bloom for the Rams to put the game out of reach.
Fennell hit Bloom for three scores, and the Rams played bend-but-don’t-break defense to score a 29-8 win in a Heritage Conference football game Friday at Weller Field.
Ligonier Valley, which notched its fourth straight win over Marion Center, has gotten off to a 4-0 start for the fourth consecutive season.
“Nothing’s ever easy, but he puts the ball there every time I catch it,” Bloom, a 6-foot-7 tight end who has committed to play at the University of Connecticut next fall, said of Fennell. “That’s our jobs. That’s what we do. We have a great relationship and we’re great friends, and it just carries on to the field. We just have great chemistry.”
Fennell and Bloom connected for their first score on the Rams’ seventh play from scrimmage. Fennell found Bloom open in the right seam, and Bloom outran defensive backs Jake Bothell and Noah Hoover for a 48-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 with 8:01 to play in the first quarter.
Marion Center quarterback Blake Orr took a chance on the Stingers’ ensuing possession, but Fennell stepped in front of his pass at the Stingers’ 40-yard line and returned it 28 yards to the 12.
Three plays later, Daniel Croyle bulled his way into the end zone from 1 yard on a jet sweep around left end to make it 13-0 with 6:46 left in the first half. Dereck Croyle scored on a two-point conversion run to make it 15-0.
“We ran the ball well at times, but we’ve got to cut the mistakes out,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “There’s a difference between playing with emotion and playing with some composure, and we’ve got to learn how to do the latter.”
Marion Center impressively regained its footing and responded on its first possession of the second quarter, driving 64 yards on nine plays for a touchdown to cut the Rams’ lead to 15-6. Orr scored on a 1-yard keeper, and Hoover scored on a two-point conversion run to trim Ligonier Valley’s lead to 15-8.
But Ligonier Valley answered and marched 80 yards on 14 plays on its next possession to score another touchdown with 1:55 to go in the first half. Fennell capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Bloom, who outleaped the 6-3 Bothell in the end zone to stretch Ligonier Valley’s lead to 22-8.
“He scrambles out and I put my hand up whenever I feel like I’m open,” Bloom said. “I was in the back of the end zone, which is usually where that happens. He throws it up, and if I don’t catch it, I’m not going to let the other guy) catch it. Either I get it or no one gets it.”
The Stingers forced the Rams to punt from their own 6 on their first possession of the second half. However, a Marion Center player knocked down punter Daniel Croyle, and the Stingers got flagged for roughing the punter.
Ligonier Valley made Marion Center pay, using a hurry-up offense to drive 79 yards on the next nine plays for their fourth and final touchdown. On the 13th play of the drive, Fennell threw a 10-yard touchdown to a wide-open Bloom to stretch Ligonier Valley’s lead to 29-8 with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
“People say, ‘He’s just big, he’s just big,’” Fennell said. “If he were just big, he wouldn’t be able to high-point the ball. I hate it when people say that’s why he’s getting recruited so far, because he’s 6-foot-7, 240 (pounds). No, he’s athletic, he’s big, and he’s a heady player. He knows what to do on every play.”
Marion Center outgained Ligonier Valley 163-153 on the ground but mustered just 49 passing yards and had 12 first downs to the Rams’ 18.
“We’re moving the ball, but we aren’t putting points on the board,” Malicky said. “Our kids came off the ball well. When we block who we’re supposed to, the offense runs pretty well. We just can’t seem to get six or seven guys together on every play. … It’s not like we’re doing rocket science. It’s the same stuff we’ve been doing since Week 1, and we’ve got to start doing it better. It’s as simple as that.”
Despite the convincing nature of their win, Rams coach Roger Beitel expressed discontent with his team’s lack of discipline, and at times, a lack of effort.
“Our playmakers made plays, but (I have to) give Marion Center a lot of credit to keep fighting back, and that’s what they did all night,” Beitel said. “I’m not happy with our lack of discipline, and that’s my fault. That sits solely with me. I’m not happy with our lack of emotion about wanting to play the game of football the way it deserves to be played. We won the football game, but we have mountains of work to do — mountains of work to do.”
Fennell finished 7 of 14 for 123 yards, and Bloom caught five balls for 84 yards.
Zach Edwards led Marion Center with 73 yards rushing.