Marion Center’s Garet Wells (33) picked up a block from Keegan Whitfield en route to  164 rushing yards and a second straight 1,000-yard season Friday night against Meyersdale.

MARION CENTER — With the playoffs quickly approaching and having not played a close game in quite some time, Marion Center was anticipating a tight game against a tough opponent in Week 10.

While Friday night’s game served as a tune-up for the upcoming playoffs, it was also a wake-up call for the Stingers, who got out to a slow start in a 24-14 loss to Meyersdale in a Heritage Conference-WestPAC second-place crossover game.

The Red Raiders returned the opening kickoff 77 yards to the Marion Center 6-yard line and scored two plays later to take an early 7-0 lead in the first minute of the game. The Stingers turned the ball over on their first two possessions and quickly faced a 14-0 deficit.

“After seeing them on film we knew it was going to be a physical football game, and we knew we were pretty evenly matched,” Marion Center coach Adam Rising said. “Unfortunately, with turning the football over three times, you can’t do that against a good football team. Initially, they had that huge kickoff return to start the game, and that didn’t help us. We gave up plays in crucial situations and had key penalties when we started to create some momentum. Those are things we haven’t necessarily done all year from a performance standpoint, and this isn’t a definition of our season. This isn’t the end, but it’s a tough one to swallow. We have to focus on going into the postseason now.”

Despite the loss, the Stingers held on to the No. 5 seed in the District 6 Class 2A rankings and will face No. 4 Penns Valley in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. The top eight teams in Class 2A qualify for the playoffs.

Meyersdale, out of District 5, wrapped up the No. 2 spot in its playoff bracket and will take on rival Berlin, the No. 3 seed, in the first round.

“We had to play four tough quarters tonight, and we will against Penns Valley — they’re a very, very nice football team,” Rising said. “We’ve watched film on them already. We’re healthy, which is good toward the end of the season. There were some things exposed tonight that we’re just going to have to identify and evaluate, and we have to continue to get better.”

Things got better for Marion Center in the second half Friday, but the Stingers had already dug themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of.

The Red Raiders, who finished behind conference champ Portage in the conference standings after a tiebreaker, jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run by Devin Kretchman on the second play from scrimmage and on a 4-yard touchdown run by the senior with 3:49 left in the opening period.

“This was a tough, physical game, and that’s what we expected out of them,” Meyersdale coach Ryan Donaldson said. “This is what we want in this crossover game because this is going to make us better for what we have coming up. We knew coming into this that we were playing for something tonight. Now we are able to play a home game against our rival next week.”

After some halftime adjustments in their running game, the Stingers were able to move the ball on the opening drive of the second half, a 72-yard, 5-yard drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Garet Wells.

Meyersdale answered, and Brennan Campbell kicked a 31-yard field goal with 6:07 on the clock in the third quarter to give the Red Raiders a 17-6 lead.

Marion Center stayed in it, and on the Stingers next possession, quarterback Ty Ryen hit Justin Peterson with a 34-yard touchdown pass. After a two-point conversion run by Keegan Whitfield, Marion Center pulled within three, 17-14, with 2:38 left in the third quarter.

The Stingers then forced a three-and-out to make Meyersdale punt from deep in its own territory. Marion Center took over at the Red Raiders’ 35-yard line and drove to the 14 before fumbling the ball away.

“We talked at halftime about how there was no reason to be rattled,” Rising said. “We’ve been down before and came back, and we knew we needed to respond, and we did. We got things going, and made some adjustments. Wells got going, and our line did a really good job. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Wells finished with 164 yards on 21 carries and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season.

Kretchman had 224 yards on 27 attempts and also went over 1,000 yards. He scored his third touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run that put the Red Raiders up 24-14 with 2:56 to play and give them their first Heritage Conference-WestPAC crossover victory.

“In these crossovers, it’s tough because you don’t really know a whole lot about the other team,” Donaldson said. “We saw them on film, we looked at their roster, and they’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. My hat is off to Coach Rising. He has a heck of a ball team. I wish them the best next week. They gave us a really good matchup tonight.”

Marion Center now turns its focus to the playoffs and taking on another unfamiliar opponent. The Stingers will move past the loss and try to take what they learned from it into next week’s matchup.

“It’s exciting to play a new team you know nothing about,” Rising said. “It’s nice to have this crossover game. There’s some good things that come out of it. It helped us recognize some of the things tonight we need to get better at moving forward, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”