Thursday, October 15, 2009
Jr. high Pats repeat as district champs
In a matchup of undefeated junior high teams, Marshall Academy entered last Thursday’s contest with Indianola looking to repeat as District 1-AA champs.
Both teams sported unblemished records – Marshall at 6-0 and the Lieutenant Colonels at 5-0. Sparked by a strong defensive effort, the Patriots came away with a 22-16 victory, holding off a late rally from Indianola.
The junior high Patriots have now won 14 games in a row after going 7-0 a year ago. They will host Strider Academy Thursday in a bowl game created to celebrate the accomplishments of these two schools’ fine seasons. The Rams are also undefeated in 2009.
Second year head coach Keith Owens said, “I couldn’t be any prouder of these kids and what they have accomplished. Our goal from the beginning was to win back-to-back district championships. It’s tough because everybody is wanting to beat you.”
What makes it even more special is the fact the Patriots had to replace 10 offensive starters from a year ago and still are averaging nearly 28 points a game. Also eight of 11 defensive starters moved on to high school.
This game would definitely not be easy. Indianola received the ball to start the contest and promptly marched down the field for a score. Trey Roberson pounded the ball across the goal line and with just over two minutes gone, the Colonels led 8-0
Marshall’s first drive resulted in a turnover on downs as the drive stalled at the Colonel 19-yard line. Indianola took possession but gave it right back to the Patriots. A fumble recovery by Zack Pritchett put the Pats in business at the 29. Four plays later, Marshall was in the end zone as Pritchett scored from 7 yards out. He also added the two-point try and the score was knotted at 8. The key play on the drive was Chase Smith’s 22 yard reception from the hand of Aaron McAlexander that placed the ball on the 7.
At intermission the score would still be tied at 8.
Owens said, “We were in a fight. Our kids responded and played well in the second half. I want to credit our offensive line for coming together and taking over the game.”
Vince Hoyt, Josh Mask, Brody Martin, Wood Morris and Hunter Vanderburg are the starting offensive linemen.
After trading possessions starting the second half, the Patriots caught a break thanks to a strong defensive surge. The Patriots pinned Indianola deep, thanks to Stephen Pannell’s tackle of Roberson for a loss on third and eight.
Indianola was forced to punt and Marshall would take possession on the 27. On the first play Dakota Dailey broke for an 11-yard gain to get the Pats closer to the lead. Two plays later, Pritchett hooked up with John Wesley Ray for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Pritchett would tack on the point after for a 16-8 advantage
The defense came through again as they held the Colonels on downs in their next possession. On fourth and five from their own 21, Indianola elected to go for the first down. Pritchett converged on Roberson and the collision resulted in the Colonels coming up 1 yard short.
Marshall would take advantage of the short field, taking over on the 25. Three consecutive runs by Chase Smith, in addition to a face mask penalty, placed the ball on the 7. After a holding penalty negated a Patriot touchdown, Pritchett connected with McAlexander on an acrobatic 15-yard catch in the front corner of the end zone. The point-after attempt would fail but Marshall held a 22-8 advantage with 6:21 to play.
Indianola would not go away. The Colonels drove the ball down the field and eventually scored with 1:09 to play on Roberson’s carry from 1 yard out. They also completed the point-after try to close the Pats advantage to 6.
But Marshall refused to let the Colonels complete the comeback. An onside kick by Indianola would end up in McAlexander’s hands. Marshall needed just one first down to run the clock out as Indianola would spend all of their timeouts. On fourth and one, Dailey got 2 yards and the Pats would seal the victory.
Playing without Dustin Allen, the team’s defensive stopper who suffered a concussion the previous week against Oak Hill, Owens credits his defense for leading to the win.
“The defense had to step up without Dustin,” he said. “I was proud of all of them, especially Wood Morris.”
Morris had his best defensive game of the year with four solo tackles and two assists. Owens also pointed to the fact that four defensive starters were seventh graders. Dailey, Brian Novarese (leading tackler with six solo tackles and six assists) and Devin McGreger had started pretty much all year, but with the absence of Allen, Thomas Faulkenbery was inserted into the mix.
Owens said, “They did a great job.”
Statistical leaders for Marshall were Pritchett who was seven of 11 passing for 91 yards and two touchdowns. He was also in on 12 defensive tackles. Three of Pritchett’s passes went to Ray for 35 yards. Ray was credited with being in on 10 defensive stops. Smith had two receptions for 29 yards and McAlexander two for 22 yards. Leading rushers were Smith with 38 yards on 10 carries and Dailey with 23 yards on six carries.
“We are going to have another tough week of practice preparing for an undefeated team,” Owens said. “It should be a great atmosphere if it is anything like the crowd this past week. I hope all our fans will come out and support these boys.”
Game time is 7 p.m. Thursday at Patriot Field.
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