MARION CENTER — Marion Center coach Adam Rising couldn’t help but crack a smile when his team scored its third touchdown of Friday night’s game. His reaction was one of sincerity as that third touchdown came with less than four minutes off the clock in the first quarter and before Penns Manor was able to take an offensive snap.
Admittedly a slow-starting team, Marion Center was glad to get out to a quick start and roll past the Comets, 47-13, in a Heritage Conference game at John R. Malino Stadium.
“It was exciting,” Marion Center’s Garet Wells said. “We really got momentum, and our guys were all in.”
The Stingers have scored just 39 first-quarter points this season but went on to score 27 in the opening quarter Friday night and held a 33-0 lead at halftime.
“It was really positive on our guys’ end to come out quick and put up three scores in a matter of five minutes,” Rising said. “It’s definitely a confidence booster. We’ve been a little bit slow coming out initially at the beginning of games and have taken a while to get going. … That was huge tonight. A lot of guys were playing with confidence tonight, especially on a nice night with senior night recognition and youth football night and all the positive things occurring here.”
There was also cause for celebration after the game, following a two-touchdown and two-broken-school-records performance by Wells, who finished with 87 yards on 24 carries.
Wells surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for his career and passed Jed Peterson as the school’s career rushing leader. He also broke the single-season school record with his 18th and 19th touchdowns, a mark that was held by his father, Jason, in the early 1990s.
“I just want to thank our offensive line from our freshman year the whole way up because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have any of it,” Wells said.
“It’s been awesome to play with those guys, and I wouldn’t want to strap up with anyone else.”
With two weeks left in the regular season, the Stingers are 6-2 and are looking to solidify their spot in the District 6 Class 2A playoff rankings. The Comets dropped to 2-6 and have some work to do if they want to keep their playoff appearance streak alive. Penns Manor has qualified for the playoffs in each of the past 12 seasons.
Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said he thought his team played better the rest of the game after it settled down, but the Comets were already in a 27-0 hole.
“We started stopping them a little bit,” he said. “We knew we were playing a good team, and we’re young and just not there.”
Marion Center put together a 10-play, 53-yard drive on the first possession of the game that was capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Keegan Whitfield with 8:40 remaining in the first quarter.
The Stingers then recovered the ensuing kickoff after the ball was touched by a Penns Manor player at the Comets’ 35-yard line. Gaven Palko then scampered the 35 yards to the end zone for the Stingers’ second touchdown as just 14 seconds ticked off the clock.
Marion Center then recovered a short, bouncing kickoff three seconds later just outside of the Comets’ 30-yard line. On the next play, Ty Ryen hit Jonah Vaglia with a 32-yard touchdown pass with 8:14 on the clock, and after the extra point, the Stingers led 20-0.
“It’s tough,” Packer said. “We didn’t even get the ball, and it was 20-0 just like that and we didn’t even have the ball offensively yet. You just tell them to go from there and there is a lot of time left and try to get something going. You have to give Marion Center a lot of credit. They’re a heck of a good football team, and you can’t make mistakes like that.”
The Comets went three-and-out on their first offensive possession, and just two plays later Wells scored on a 16-yard run that put the Stingers up 27-0 after the extra point with 5:32 left in the first quarter.
“Garet’s a workhorse,” Rising said. “He just loves football. He eats, breathes, sleeps it. He’s one of those guys that’s in the weight room first and one of the last guys to leave, so that just shows you how important the offseason is.”
The Stingers tacked on another first-half touchdown on a 29-yard pass from Ryen to Justin Peterson in the back of the end zone with 53.8 seconds left until halftime.
Penns Manor came out with a bang in the second half and scored on its first play from scrimmage on a 76-yard romp to the end zone by Kevin Baum after he looked like he was going to be stopped after about a 10-yard gain. The Comets’ Dimitri Lieb picked off Ryen and took it 67 yards for a touchdown with 6:24 on the clock in the third quarter to cut Penns Manor’s deficit to 20, 33-13.
“Tonight, when you get down like that, it’s tough to come back,” Packer said. “The kids played hard, and we had three guys go down (with injuries), which hurt us too, and we moved guys around in spots defensively and we gave up a couple big plays and that hurt us.”
Marion Center answered with a 65-yard drive, and Wells scored on a 2-yard run with 19.1 seconds remaining in the third. Ryen connected with Whitfield for a 16-yard touchdown with 8:54 left in the game to set the final score following the extra point.
“They’re a good team, we just played our game the way we’re able to and came out on top,” Whitfield said.
Ryen finished 8 of 14 for 127 yards and three touchdowns as the Stingers outgained the Comets, 508-220. Baum led Penns Manor with 94 rushing yards on six attempts before leaving the game with an injury.
Now, the Stingers will take on a United team that has taken its lumps this season, and Rising has no intention of overlooking the Lions with the WestPAC crossover week and playoffs on the horizon.
“We’re a week-by-week team, but obviously at this point of the year, we have some guys banged up, and the key right now is to work on the fine details and just keeping guys healthy,” Rising said.
“Going down to United next week’s not going to be an easy opponent. I know they’re hungry and playing some better football.”
Packer’s young Penns Manor team has made progress at times this season, he said, but will need to make a push to pursue a playoff spot.
“I thought when we went into that West Shamokin game, we went backwards again,” he said. “Then last week, I thought we didn’t play too bad defensively, and I thought we were getting back on track.
“We know if we can beat Northern (Cambria) next week and win that WestPAC game, then who knows, you might have a shot. But we have to play four quarters of football, and we haven’t done that yet all year.”