MARION CENTER — In a Heritage Conference football clash between two undefeated teams combining for 80 points and almost 800 yards in offense per outing, it was a big play by the Marion Center defense that set the tone.
And that tone would resonate all game long.
When Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty decided to roll the dice on the opening series with an unusual unbalanced jumbo backfield set on fourth-and-1, the Stinger defenders answered the call and threw wildcat quarterback Isaac Noll for a loss.
“It showed how good we were, and how we could stop anything they threw at us,” Stinger senior defensive tackle and captain Marvin Beatty said.
Marion Center rode the momentum to score on two long Ty Ryen passes in the first six minutes en route to a resounding 28-6 win at John Mallino Stadium on Friday night that is sure to draw attention not just within the Heritage Conference but throughout District 6.
“We were underestimated,” said Justin Peterson, who caught a 37-yard touchdown pass and ran for an 8-yard score. “That win right there proves we’re more than everyone thinks we are.”
Peterson was one of the Stinger upperclassmen recognized before the game on senior night when Marion Center went to 4-0 for the first time since 2009.
“It’s huge,” Marion Center coach Adam Rising said of the win. “It’s senior night. We promised we’d get (the seniors) off this field with a win.”
Ryen completed 10 of 18 passes for 169 yards and ran for a touchdown in addition to his two touchdown throws, but even he said the best thing about the triumph was the performance of the Stinger defense.
Marion Center allowed just 211 yards to an offense that entered the game averaging almost 400. The Stingers forced two turnovers, denied fourth-down conversion tries near midfield on two of the first three possessions, registered five sacks, scored a safety and came up with a goal-line stand as time expired in the opening half to preserve a 15-0 lead.
“We just have a stacked defense. When we set our mind to it, we can beat any team,” Beatty said.
Northern Cambria only finished with nine first downs. The Colts have their first until the last minute of the second quarter.
“It was a straight-out defensive win,” Rising said.
Trying for its first 5-0 start since 2003, Northern Cambria had a couple opportunities to get back into the game. However, after Noll was pushed back from the 1 on second-and-goal with just 2.1 seconds left following Gavin Dumm’s blocked punt in the second quarter, Marion Center took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove the length of the field, capping the foray on a 1-yard Ryen run.
The Colts answered on Mike Hoover’s 35-yard gallop up the middle off the read-option to get it back to a 15-point difference, and Northern Cambria, which already has three come-from-behind wins this season, seemed to have life when Owen Prasko — the game’s top rusher with 80 yards on eight carries — broke off a 58-yard run deep into Stinger territory.
Two penalties, though, set Northern Cambria back, and T.J. Lynn intercepted Hoover on third-and-29 to end the threat.
“I can’t say anything more than that really: They just beat us up,” Colts coach Sam Shutty said.
Although it looked like a fairly even matchup on paper coming in, Shutty seemed determined to pull out all the stops to give his squad the edge. Not only did the Colts go for it at midfield on the opening series with an unusual formation, they also dialed up a fake punt with 11 yards to go from their own 38 on their third possession, but Dumm was stopped 4 yards shy of a first down.
“I just thought we needed momentum,” Shutty said. “There were things we saw on film we thought we would easily execute and, confronted with that situation, we didn’t execute. I put that on me.”
Marion Center made Northern Cambria pay. After thwarting the Colts’ fourth-down try to start the game, the Stingers covered 48 yards on eight plays, the final 37 on Peterson’s outstanding catch of a Ryen throw to open the scoring.
On the ensuing drive, a collision in the backfield caused a Northern Cambria fumble that Marion Center’s Xavier Vaglia pounced on at the Colt 35. On the next snap, Ryen found Lynn behind the secondary and hit him in stride for the Stingers’ second touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Ryen completed six of his first eight passes and finished 10-for-18 for 169 yards.
“When we have T.J. Lynn and Justin Peterson out as splits, they can make the plays we need, and they can beat the defense down the field,” Ryen said. “I had time to throw. All my credit goes to my offensive line.”
Lynn finished with seven catches for 103 yards, while Peterson had four grabs for 85 yards. Brady Tonkin topped Stinger rushers with 57 yards on 15 carries.
“Our kids are pretty humble. Our staff is pretty humble. It’s OK to be an underdog. Respect will come when you earn it,” Rising said. “Hopefully, at this point in the season, this will open some eyes.”