Marion Center vs. Purchase Line

Marion Center's Keegan Whitfield (22) slipped away from Purchase Line’s Kyle Day.

MARION CENTER — Adam Rising has the Marion Center football program on the road to respectability in just his second season as coach.

The Stingers were forced to rally from deficits in each half Friday night and scored the game’s final 13 points to beat Purchase Line, 27-19, in a Heritage Conference matchup.

Marion Center improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006 and finds itself in a very unlikely spot — tied atop the conference standings with perennial power Ligonier Valley. 

“It was a very tough game,” Rising said. “I’m very happy, very proud of our kids, very proud of our coaching staff, for us being 3-0, for such an ugly game.”

Purchase Line dropped to 1-2 after suffering its second consecutive fourth-quarter setback.

The Red Dragons jumped to a quick 7-0 lead on Cullen Goncher’s 57-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and led again 19-14 at the 6:15 mark of the third quarter on Jacob Barnett’s 1-yard quarterback sneak.

But the fourth quarter belonged to the Stingers, who turned two Purchase Line miscues into touchdowns.

“We had all the momentum in the world going in the third quarter,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said. “I think we had them in a third-and 18 or something and the guy (Wells) breaks four tackles and runs down the field. Once again, sloppy tackling just like last week.

“Then we do a great job on the goal-line stand, but we get a punt blocked ... and then we fumbled the kickoff. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

“It all came down to a few missed tackles and we seemed to crumble.”

Clayton Coble blocked Barnett’s punt at the 8 early in the fourth quarter, and Marion Center quarterback Gaven Palko turned it into the go-ahead score with a 1-yard sneak on fourth down.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Stingers’ Xavier Vaglia stripped Zach Day of the ball at the 33 and Garet Wells scored on a 13-yard touchdown run a short time later to seal the win.

“That’s what I love about this team. There’s no I’s, there’s no egos,” Rising said. “This team has been collectively a ‘we’ team all year. … They’ve been a resilient bunch. We battled back. That’s a credit to our mental toughness. That’s the training we’ve done with these guys and them just believing in each other.”

There were other heroes for the Stingers, too.

Wells finished with 97 yards on 27 carries and scored twice, adding a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He has 10 touchdowns in three games to go along with 486 yards.

He also broke four tackles on a 65-yard screen pass in the third quarter that fizzled out inside the 5.

“Wells was Wells. He ran hard and was able to find the end zone,” Rising said.

In addition to Xavier Vaglia’s forced fumble, he also had two sacks. His brother, Jonah Vaglia, used his 6-foot-5 frame to block an extra point and to pull in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Palko.

“We love the Vaglia brothers,” Rising said. “They’re smart kids, they work hard, they’re program kids and from a good family. They love football and they get after it.”

Kicker Jocilyn Thompson, whose two brothers played football at Marion Center, made 3 of 4 extra points. Her only miss hit the upright and bounced back. She has made 9 of 13 PAT tries this year,

“We’re really happy to have her,” Rising said. “She’s a great athlete and a great kid.”

Thompson, a senior, also participates in basketball, track and volleyball for the Stingers.

“I’m not going to lie. Coach asked me to come out last year and kick, but I thought he was joking, so I never took him seriously,” Thompson said. “I worked all summer with the team and they really carried me through.

“There’s a lot of people that aren’t going to believe that we’re 3-0, or didn’t believe we were going to be 3-0, but I wouldn’t want to be on that field with any other group of guys.”

Goncher was the workhorse for Purchase Line, gaining 122 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. Josh Syster managed just 14 yards on three carries, and Day snagged a 60-yard touchdown reception from Barnett.

“(Marion Center’s) a fine team,” Falisec said. “I think we’re a good team. But we’re not playing like a good team.”

Rising said his program’s newfound success also is a result of a youth program with good numbers. The Stingers reached the District 6 playoffs last year in his rookie season for the first time since 2011.

“The excitement, the positives that we’re developing with our football program, is becoming contagious, and the kids want to be part of something special,” he said. “And I owe a lot to my coaching staff for helping these kids reach that level in just our second year.”

Marion Center, which has scored 117 points in the first three games, visits Homer-Center next week. Purchase Line hosts Northern Cambria.