Photos by Dillon Day
Ryan McAlexander (10) stretches across the goal-line to complete a 5-yard touchdown reception in the second half. At left is Wil Summerlin (5). In back is Wyatt Bain (62).

Mitchell Lafever (50) pulls down Winona’s big running back, Zach Castille.

Photos by Dillon Day
Tyler Bolden (4) looks for running room on a kick return.

Eli Pearson (2) picks up a block from his brother, Canaan Pearson (back).

Marshall Academy fans form a victory line as the Patriots take the field Friday night at Canton Academy.

Wil Summerlin (5) pressures the Winona quarterback.

Patriots head to semi-finals

The Marshall Academy Patriots adopted a pre-playoff motto – “16 more quarters.”

Eight down. Eight to go.

In round two last Friday night, MA put together four quarters of solid football and eliminated Winona Christian on the Stars’ home field, 35-21. Next up is a semi-final contest this Friday at Canton Academy.

“We have eight more quarters,” coach Barrett Donahoe told his team after the quarter-final win. “It gets even more intense. It gets harder. It will take more energy. We have to have everyone’s commitment.”

The Patriots set the tone early versus the Stars. They used six plays to travel 56 yards and take the lead. Canaan Pearson, finding holes provided by his offensive line, carried four times. His brother, quarterback Eli Pearson, got the touchdown on a 31-yard keeper. Justin McDoniel kicked the first of four extra points on the night.

“We’ve taken the ball first all season when we’ve won the toss, and we were not going to change now,” Donahoe said. “We have confidence in our offense, and I was pleased with their production, starting with that opening drive. It was important for us to get off to a fast start.”

The two teams swapped punts before Winona cranked up its own scoring march. With Zach Castille and Walker Pearson doing most of the work on the ground, the home team went 70 yards in 14 plays to tie the contest at 7. Pearson scored on a 14-yard run. Landon Harbin made the kick.

Quickly, Marshall turned to the big play to regain the momentum. E. Pearson threw deep along the right sideline to Wil Summerlin, who made the catch and raced to the end zone – a 65-yard touchdown.

“Eli made really good decisions in the game and good throws at critical times,” Donahoe said.

“Wil often flies under the radar, but all season he had made big catch after big catch, and that was a really big play,” Donahoe said.

MA was up 14-7 with 1:21 left in the first quarter.

Less than two minutes later, another Patriot made a big play. Ryan McAlexander reeled in a punt and sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown. The point-after try missed the mark, and the Pats’ lead was 20-7 early in the second period.

“Coach Graham (of Winona Christian) told me the next morning they had worked all week on not kicking it to number 10 (McAlexander),” Donahoe said. “The punt came off the punter’s foot wrong (a line drive), and Ryan was able to make the big play. He is explosive in the open field and has such good vision.”

But the Stars were not going away easily. They again turned to their big back, Castille, to eat up some yardage. He carried six times in a 12-play, 68-yard drive. The touchdown came on a 19-yard pass from Shaw Ferguson to Harbin, and Harbin added the kick.

On the next Patriot possession, they evaporated five minutes of the clock and went up 28-14 with 1:08 to go in the first half. Six of the 11 plays in the 60-yard march were running plays.

“We were able to run the ball effectively all night – good blocking schemes with a lot of different people involved,” Donahoe said. “It was important for us to establish the run against those guys.”

MA capped the drive with an E. Pearson’s 5-yard pass to McAlexander, who spun and stretched his way to the end zone. E. Pearson then threw to Tyler Bolden for the two-point conversion and a 14-point advantage.

McAlexander picked off a pass to end Winona’s attempt to score in the closing seconds of the first half.

Early in the third, the Stars got an interception of their own at the MA 35 but couldn’t budge versus the Patriot defense.

A pair of sacks, one shared by Ryan Brock and Cade Crouch and another by Mitchell Lafever, pushed Winona backwards and forced a punt.

MA was pinned back at its own 11. On the first play, C. Pearson hit a hole and darted the distance, 89 yards, for the score. The lead was suddenly 35-14 with 6:43 left in the third quarter.

“That was a tremendous defensive stop after the turnover, and then Canaan ripped off that huge run to make it a three-touchdown lead,” Donahoe said.

To end the third, the Marshall defense rose to the occasion again, stopping the Stars twice inside the 3-yard line.

The Patriot offense then put together a time-consuming drive that ate up the bulk of the fourth quarter. However, it didn’t result in points when a 31-yard field-goal try was blocked by Winona.

The Stars closed the gap to 14 with 31 seconds left in the game when Blake Greene scored on a 10-yard run, and Harbin’s point-after kick was good.

They were then successful on an onside kick attempt but could not add more points before time expired.

MA finished with 382 yards total offense – 249 of that on the ground. C. Pearson had 15 carries for 173 yards. E. Pearson was eight of 13 passing for 133 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Winona had 304 yards total offense – 198 rushing and 106 passing.

Leading the Patriot defense were McAlexander with 15 tackles, Summerlin and Crouch with 10 each, Lafever with nine, Brock with eight, and Everette Jones, Boyce McKinney and Wesley Bolden with six each.

Marshall (9-3), the fifth seed, goes to Canton (11-1), the first seed, this Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The winner will meet either Tri-County or Trinity in the Class A-AA state championship game Thurs­day, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m. at Jackson Academy.

“Sixteen more quarters is the mindset I wanted our guys to take on when the playoffs began – with our goal to be win every quarter, one quarter at a time,” Donahoe said. “The urgency is what is so special. At this point of the season, every second matters.”

He said the Panthers have been at the top of the rankings all season.

“We felt like we would play them at some point,” he said. “It will be a great challenge. But we’ve seen them (in a pre-season jamboree) and we know who they are and what they are about. We feel we can match up with them.

“It will be another good playoff atmosphere. We had a great crowd at Winona and I expect the same thing when we drive to Canton this Friday night.”

Holly Springs South Reporter

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