H.S. FOOTBALL: Stingers top Lions to end six-game skid
MARION CENTER — If Friday night’s win is any indication of the future for the Marion Center Stingers, then that future looks awfully bright.
In a game in which both teams looked to gain some more experience late in disappointing seasons, it was the Stingers who emerged on top with a 34-14 victory over United in a Heritage Conference football game at John R. Mallino Stadium.
Celebrating Senior Night in the final conference game of the season for both teams, the Stingers were able to get the right mix of production from veterans and underclassmen on both sides of the ball as they racked up 321 total yards, forced three turnovers and snapped a six-game losing streak.
While the defense remained stout and the offensive line continued to open up holes inside, it was the success of the perimeter game that helped carry the Stingers to victory.
Thad Welch, Colton Fairman and Blake Orr attacked the perimeter and racked up huge chunks of yardage, which opened up the middle for fullback Zack Edwards to exploit.
Welch kicked off the scoring with a 43-yard run around left end, and Orr connected with Charles Brewer for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
“We had some blocking,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “We ran it hard and had success, but that was built off the success we had inside with Zack and Colton. We were able to pop one there with Thad, which opened things up a little bit.”
“We just didn’t have good containment,” United coach Lance Holupka said. “We weren’t setting the perimeter very well tonight. They were cracking us a bit, but that is still on us not setting an edge.
“We didn’t put pressure on them. I wouldn’t say it was their scheme, it was more of us not stepping up and stopping them.”
After Welch’s run, the two teams traded drives that didn’t muster any points, but after taking over at their own 30-yard line, the Lions drove 70 yards in 10 plays as Matt Dill punched it in from 3 yards, making it an 8-7 game. The Lions’ drive was highlighted by a pass interference penalty and a 35-yard catch-and-run by Weylon McGeary that put the Lions in scoring position.
The Stingers wasted little time answering the Lions’ score.
Following a 40-yard kickoff return by Fairman, the Stingers started at United and covered the distance in six plays, with Orr powered it in from 3 yards. The big play of the drive was a 24-yard catch-and-run by Charles Brewer on third-and-9.
Throughout the game the Stingers faced numerous third-and-long situations but seemingly always picked up big chunks of yardage that allowed them to convert manageable fourth downs.
“The kids did a great job of converting those long plays,” Malicky said. “Blake threw some nice balls; we had some nice protection. Those third downs were big. To pick up most of the yardage was big. It kept the drives alive and allowed us to keep momentum in our favor.”
“We just didn’t do a good job on third downs,” Holupka said. “We didn’t get off the field by forcing them to punt the ball.”
Trailing 14-7 at half, the Lions looked to pull even on the opening drive of the third quarter, but Jake Bothell intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards to the United 40-yard line. Five plays later, Fairman broke numerous tackles on a 26-yard scoring run with 5:37 to go in the third quarter.
Three plays after that, the Lions fumbled and Welch recovered for the Stingers at the Lions’ 25. A little more than two minutes later Orr scrambled in from the 2 to give the Stingers a 28-7 lead with 1:27 to go in the third quarter.
“We’ve got to do a better job of securing the ball,” Holupka said. “We were carrying it a little loose.”
Marion Center entered the game with a minus-8 turnover margin, and United was minus-12.
“This is one of the first games we’ve had multiple turnovers, at least on a consistent basis,” Malicky said. “Obviously that helped us. When a team makes a mistake and puts the ball on the ground we have to be opportunistic. The kids took advantage of it.”
Down 21 and seeing the game start to slip away, Holupka decided to build for the future and put freshman Jesse Beacker in at quarterback. Beacker led the Lions to a touchdown on his first possession, one that covered 74 yards in 10 plays and was capped by a 7-yard pass from Beacker to McGeary.
“Jesse made some nice passes,” Holupka said. “We’re getting him a little experience and he did a real nice job. He made a great read on the touchdown pass there at the end.”
Looking to run the clock out and pick up their second win of the season, the Stingers ripped off big gain after big gain on the ground as Edwards, Fairman and Orr each had a run of 12 yards or longer on the drive. Fairman added a late score from 26 yards that capped the scoring.
Orr finished with 99 yards passing and 46 rushing.
“I thought Blake was a good field general — just controlling the football and getting some big runs for us,” Malicky said.
With one game left in the regular season, both teams can continue to build for the future.
“They’re showing up everyday and working hard,” Holupka said. “Down the line it’s going to break, and when it does, we’ll be all right.”