NuMINE — Marion Center has had its fill of the dramatics.
It took the better part of six quarters to open the season, but Adam Rising’s team finally strung together the type of complete effort the coach expects in his second year at the helm.
So when the Stingers took the lead for the first time Friday night — unlike in their season-opening comeback victory over Saltsburg last week — they made certain to leave a lasting impression on West Shamokin’s Jack E. Boyer Field.
Marion Center cleaned up its act on both sides of the football after a leaky defense and a pair of fumbles helped stake West Shamokin to an early lead. And running back Garet Wells romped to his second straight four-touchdown performance as the Stingers used seven unanswered scores to surge to a 49-13 victory over the Wolves.
“Our guys just settled in,” Rising said. “The first couple drives, we shot ourselves in the foot and turned the football over and we didn’t execute on a fourth-and-short. So we settled in. That’s kudos to our seniors and our captains, just keeping our guys calm and relaxed. And once we realized what we could do, we put the hammer down and never looked back.”
The victory was not only Marion Center’s first over West Shamokin since the Wolves joined the Heritage Conference in 2016, but it also marked the Stingers’ first 2-0 start since 2011, which prior to last year, had been the last time they went on to reach the District 6 playoffs.
And perhaps most importantly, it signaled a winning attitude for a team that allowed a 33-20 halftime lead to disappear against Saltsburg in the season opener before Wells scored the Stingers’ lone second-half touchdown in the closing minutes to edge the Trojans, 41-34.
“They got us those first couple drives and then we adjusted and learned how to read the guards and play our gaps, and it was all over from there,” senior offensive lineman and middle linebacker Clayton Coble said. “They got tired. We came out in the second half and picked up where we left off in the first half. Last week, we didn’t. We let off a little bit and they came back. We still came through, but it was good that we learned from our mistake last week.”
“Kudos to our coaches,” senior tight end and defensive end Jonah Vaglia said. “In the second quarter we really cleaned things up and figured out what they were doing and what we could do to prevent their runs. This really gives us a lot of confidence going down the road.”
Each team faces a conference foe that is coming off a difficult loss next week.
Marion Center (2-0) plays host to Purchase Line (1-1), which surrendered the lead in the final minutes of Friday’s 44-40 loss to Homer-Center.
West Shamokin (0-2), meanwhile, will aim for its first victory when it travels to Northern Cambria (1-1), a 35-24 loser at Saltsburg.
And the Wolves, who fell just a touchdown shy in their season-opening 26-20 loss to Purchase Line, will need more of their strong introductions and fewer of their late lapses in order to turn their season around.
Marion Center outgained West Shamokin 431-232 in total yards.
“We had a really good week,” West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough said. “We went over all of their pressures and we were picking them up in practice, and then for whatever reason, we come Friday night, and after that first quarter, it was like we lost ourselves. We weren’t blocking the right guys. I’m not going to question the kids’ effort. We just mentally weren’t there.
“They were more hungry than us tonight. But we’re not going to quit. We’re two games in. We’re going to come back and get after it and we’re going to get this thing going in the right direction.”
Marion Center ran just 12 offensive plays over its first three possessions while West Shamokin built a 13-0 advantage.
The Stingers then needed only five plays to take a touchdown lead.
After West Shamokin stalled deep its own territory, a low snap on a punt attempt gave the ball back to Marion Center on the 19-yard line, and Wells charged into the end zone on the next play to break the shutout.
Marion Center then answered consecutive three-play West Shamokin drives with two-play possessions, capped by Wells touchdown runs of 8 and 28 yards, as the Stingers took a 21-13 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.
“We knew what they were going to do,” McCullough said. “They didn’t do anything that we weren’t ready for or didn’t prepare for. We started out great, jumped on them 13-0, and then we have a bad punt. That swung all the momentum in their favor and we weren’t able to get it back. I never expected us to come out and play the way we did defensively.”
Wells tacked on his fourth straight touchdown with 18 seconds to go before the break to increase the Stingers’ advantage to 15, 28-13.
The 5-foot-8 senior, who rushed for 240 yards and four scores last Friday, finished with 149 yards on 19 carries to bring his area-high rushing total to 389 through two games.
“Hats off to our line,” Wells said. “They come out and bust their butts every week, starting with practice. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
Wells also helped set up a fellow senior’s touchdown with a 49-yard interception return from near West Shamokin’s goal line that all but ended the Wolves’ chances at a rally.
Coble, one player who has typically paved running lanes for the Stingers up front at guard, got in on the act for one play in the third quarter, rushing 2 yards for his first touchdown since playing at the peewee level.
“It’s the first I scored since elementary school,” Coble said. “It felt really good. Just to get the opportunity to score is pretty awesome.”
Marion Center junior quarterback Gaven Palko tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Justin Peterson, and Keegan Whitfield rushed 11 yards for Marion Center’s final touchdown.
Palko tacked on 51 rushing yards and threw for 114 yards on seven completions, including two to Vaglia for 67 yards.
Stingers senior kicker Jocilyn Thompson went 5-for-6 on extra points, and placeholder TJ Lynn rushed for a 2-point conversion after a low snap on an attempt.
For West Shamokin, quarterback Bo Swartz tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jaiden Haswell to cap the Wolves’ opening possession, and Haswell had a 6-yard touchdown run.
Logan McClafferty led West Shamokin with 93 rushing yards, 85 of which came in the first half. Haswell added 56 rushing yards and Jarret Crise had 41.