Behind a sparkling performance by senior Nate Moeller and a defense effort that rattled some fillings…Marion put aside Patrick Henry for its sixth consecutive trip to state.
(Ed Note: We all enjoy fond holiday memories, and at Marion Local nothing bodes fonder than past performances that helped the Flyers to one of their amazing run of football championships. Here’s one of their best, and most recent…last year’s state semi-final win over Patrick Henry in which running back Nate Moeller had the game of his life. As they prepare for a hopeful reprise of that game this week…enjoy!)
Lima – Being a pretty good student of Old Testament history, I have to confess. I really don’t know much about how big Samson was. I’ve heard he was a relatively small man in stature, but strong as an ox and apparently derived his strength from his long flowing hair.
Maybe like Marion Local’s Nate Moeller, who ran like Samson Friday night in the Flyers’ Division VI state semi-final game against Patrick Henry.
Moeller was strong, alright, rushing 17 times for 215 yards, three touchdowns, and caught six passes for another 100 yards receiving. And by the way, Nate could use a haircut, he admits. Only now might not be the best time to get it clipped. Read on.
The Flyers used Moeller’s 315 total yards, 60% of their game total of 503, to wear down a good Patrick Henry team (12-2) Friday and advance to next weekend’s Division VI state final game with Cuyahoga Heights. Final score…36-7. It will mark Marion’s sixth consecutive trip to the state final, seeking their fifth title since 2011, and ninth all-time.
But, Moeller and company had plenty of help. Marion’s indomitable defense showed up again, limiting a nifty Patriot offense and featured running back Donny Johnson to just 198 total yards. Johnson, himself, one of the state’s best in Division VI, managed only 86 hard-earned yards on a remarkable 30 carries.
Give him this…Johnson was a game. Marion’s defense, with linebackers led by senior Jack Homan, tracked him like heat-seeking missles and every time he touched the ball he had to contend with a swarm of tacklers. It was frustrating to Johnson personally; debilitating to Patrick Henry’s offensive plan, collectively.
“He’s not like a lot of backs we’ve seen,” said Marion coach Tim Goodwin afterwards. “Actually, he’s kind of a long-strider. Not that we tried to do anything different, we just told the kids that we can’t run with him out in the open field so they’d better do their job.”
Homan and company never let him get that far.
In fact, the only time that Johnson or Patrick Henry got inside the Marion red zone came in the third quarter, when trailing 22-0, the Patriots took advantage of a pass interference call and ultimately scored on quarterback Mitchell Bonner’s 8 yard run. Other than that they had little to say.
Marion opened the scoring on their first possession, Jack Homan capping a 53-second drive to score from 4 yards out. And after botching the extra point snap, somehow the Flyers had the presence of mind to find Sam Huelsman with pass in the end zone for a two-point conversion…8-0.
It stayed tight, both teams trading punts and penalties for the better part of the first half…until the 1:51 mark of the second quarter when Duane Leugers caught Patrick Henry over-pursuing on a fake to his right, then hit Nate Moeller with a screen pass for a 20-yard score and a 15-0 halftime lead.
They extended the lead in the third, quickly, when Leugers stepped through the line of scrimmage behind a massive block from center Luke Moorman and raced 31 yards for the end zone…22-0, Marion.
Bonner’s run on the ensuing possession cut the deficit to 22-7, but Marion came right back with another grinding drive, spearheaded by Moeller left, right, and center, to eventually score his second on a 12-yard run…29-7.
In the meantime Homan and the defense was simply teeing off on Johnson, Bonner, and anything they offered, forcing a total of six punts on the night, and setting Moeller up for his third and final score with 6:16 remaining, from 4 yards out…36-7.
“Sometimes you just get in a zone,” said Moeller, post-game. “Coach has been telling us that we need more people to get through the wall and I just did it tonight.”
His long, curly locks were matted with helmet sweat as he talked, framing the eye black that was smeared on both cheeks…Nate Moeller looked indeed like he’d just tumbled the pillars in the temple.
“The line did a great job again tonight creating some holes, and I’ve tried to be more patient to let things develop…Coach has been telling me that…and tonight it worked out.
As for the physical nature of the game…the hitting?
“Their linebackers, #6 and #56, really brought it tonight. They’re very good. But that’s just how games like this are. You have to really hit if you want to get to the big one.”
Make no mistake, Marion’s defense brought it, too. Pads popped, helmets cracked, and the pursuit never let up. There were big plays at big points of the game…a Jack Homan stop on a fourth and one in Marion territory in the second quarter…and a Joel Goodwin interception to stall another first half drive…that really pleased the coach.
“I thought they played really well,” said Goodwin. “Despite the fact that we made some uncharacteristic penalties on defense that hurt us, I was pleased with the defensive effort tonight. But to be honest you have to give some credit to Patrick Henry because I thought they did some things against us that most teams haven’t. They hit some plays here and there. I thought they played pretty well.
“But we’re going to have to play a cleaner game next week. The margin of error gets smaller, but when you play an aggressive style like we do sometimes things like happened tonight are going to happen.”
The hitting, that aggressive style, so much a part of Marion football, was an important element in the third quarter as Marion simply wore down Johnson. They got more pressure on quarterback Mitchell Bonner, and mental and physical fatigue on a cold, windy night again became an ally.
“We just have some physical seniors, about 20 of them,” said Goodwin. “That’s the most we’ve had in a long time and they like to play like that. They like the weight room and we’ve played that way all year. Tonight it helped us because I thought Patrick Henry brought it. They played hard and physical.”
In his eighteen seasons at Marion Tim Goodwin has witnessed some great running back performances in moments with the season, or a title, on the line. Goodwin admitted…Nate Moeller’s 215 yards and three touchdowns was a welcome sight.
“He played great tonight. He played the best he’s played all year,” beamed Goodwin. “I thought we had an advantage up front this week with our line, and I challenged them. Here’s our advantage, now you guys have to go out and do it. But Nate was on, and I’m hoping like heck the kid can play like that one more time.”
It sets up, of course, another Marion opportunity for a title come next Friday morning at 10 am when they meet Cuyahoga Heights for the Division VI championship in Ohio Stadium. Cuyahoga defeated last year’s champion, Kirtland, 17-0 in last week’s regional final…and brushed aside an impressive Newark Catholic Friday night, 30-14, to advance from the other semi-final bracket.
And asked if there was additional motivation to atone for the bitter disappointment of last year’s collapse in the second half against Kirtland – a game where Marion appeared to literally jerked defeat from the jaws of victory – Goodwin left no doubt as to his feelings.
“I think there was extra motivation the whole off-season,” said Goodwin. “I can handle losing. I hate to lose, but I can handle losing. It’s just the way that we lost last year – I had a rough time with that and I don’t hide things very well. And they knew that I had a rough time with it. Obviously we play a new opponent (Cuyahoga) and I don’t know anything about them. So hopefully we go out and play a clean game and see what happens.”
By now he has a familiar check list for this week’s preparation – things to say to his team about cleaning up those penalties from Friday, a fumbled punt, and an interception in the second quarter when it appeared the Flyers were going in for their second score. A little “do this” and “don’t do that”. There’s not much left to say after 18 years.
But the one thing that will be left alone – Nate Moeller will not get a haircut before Friday.
Bet on it!