Marion Local flexes, wins fourth game of the year, and 11th straight over the Anna Rockets with a 22-yard field goal by Alex Klosterman.
Anna – The easiest way to find out if the Anna Rockets are playing a meaningful home game is to check out the areas in front of the main grandstand and behind the end zone to the west. When it’s difficult to see the grass from the many spectators sitting in folding chairs, then it’s probably a Mighty MAC showdown.
But the game against Marion Local was downright colossal in importance in that people stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the concession stand.
You wanted a ticket? Well, good luck with that, buddy. If you were fortunate enough to have a ticket, finding a parking spot was like a game of Where’s Waldo.
In a ragged game in which the teams combined for seven turnovers, the Flyers prevailed 17-14 for their 11th straight victory in the series when Alex Klosterman kicked a 22-yard field goal with 6:12 remaining. The game was suspended in the first quarter by lightning and heavy rain for 45 minutes.
Of course, the winning points were set up by a fumble recovery by defensive end Nathan Ungruhn at the Rockets 38.
Flyers coach Tim Goodwin was beside himself. Turnovers cost his team dearly in a loss to Columbus Bishop Watterson the second week of the season, and it almost happened again.
This time, there were three lost fumbles and one interception.
“If we can ever clean this crap up, we can be a good team,’’ Goodwin said. “We just played crappy. But it was a great night for high school football in our league.’’
Told that his young team persevered, he had a ready reply.
“That’s a Marion Local kid – they’re tough, they’re tough,’’ Goodwin said. “We’re lucky as coaches that we don’t have to make our kids tough. They come to us pretty tough. We try to make them tougher.’’
Marion Local (4-1, 3-0) put itself in a bind the second play of the game when quarterback Kyle Muhlenkamp and running back Peyton Otte failed to connect on a pitchout, and Anna (4-1, 2-1) linebacker Ben Kovacs recovered in the end zone for a touchdown at 11:09.
The Flyers sucked it up and drove 74 yards in 14 plays on their next possession, but defensive lineman Wil Luthman recovered a fumble by Dylan Heitkamp at the 4-yard line.
The game finally began to straighten out for Marion Local when Brandon Fleck ended an 81-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run over right guard on the 12th play with 9:16 left in the second quarter to make it 7-7.
The players might have received some inspiration from coaches during the lightning delay.
“We were getting yelled at pretty good,’’ Fleck said. “We were running up and down the field, but the dumb mistakes were getting to us. We’ve got to get this cleaned up. We’ve got to get better.’’
Fleck was reminded that many people think Anna is the team to beat in the MAC.
“This was pretty important to us,’’ Fleck said. “They are the team to beat this year in the MAC. We just came out and competed. We came out fighting. We knew what we were coming into.’’
Anna took a 14-7 lead with 7:08 left in the third quarter without the aid of a turnover. Quarterback Bart Bixler hit Zach Ambos for a 20-yard completion to the 40 and Riley Huelskamp started to run left before cutting back across the field for a 53-yard run to the 7. Huelskamp did the honors with a 7-yard touchdown run.
But the Flyers created a break when linebacker Grant Meier forced Huelskamp to fumble at his 34. Six plays later, Meier ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 10:46 to play to tie it.
The biggest play of the night came when Fleck created the fumble that Ungruhn recovered at the Rockets’ 38 by raking the ball out of Huelskamp’s arm.
Ungruhn sheepishly said he was an innocent bystander.
“I was on the ground and my teammate Brandon Fleck put his head on the ball and I just fell on top of it,’’ he said. “It was a team effort, a bend not break deal. You give up a big play and you try not to give them another one. On third down, you take it over.’’
Marion Local pounded the ball with the run, but Anna held at the 3-yard line to force Goodwin to make a decision. Go for the touchdown or kick a field goal?
Klosterman, a senior, blasted a no-doubter through the uprights for the winning points.
“It was a good kick, one of my best for sure,’’ he said. “It was going back and forth for both teams. We got it at the end. No one said anything to me before the kick, and that’s the way I like it. It was different after the kick. Everyone (was on me).’’
Klosterman did not take it for granted that the turnover would result in a touchdown.
“I try to stay loose because you never know what’s going to happen,’’ he said. “(You can be in the red zone), but a holding penalty can push you back.’’
The loss was beyond frustration for Anna. The team was ranked second behind Coldwater in Division 6, Region 23 before kickoff.
Beyond computer playoff points, there was angst because the Rockets haven’t beaten Marion Local since 2008. The previous five losses were by blowout.
“It was a tough loss,’’ coach Nick Marino said. “There were a lot of opportunities there, a lot of things we could have done better. Looking from a coaching perspective, we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to fix. I’ll take the blame for the loss. The kids fought hard. We just didn’t make plays we needed to make.’’
Why did Marino accept blame?
“We obviously didn’t prepare for some things they did, and they did some really good stuff,’’ he said. “We’ve got to adjust faster and make more plays, and that’s on me.’’
The victory made Goodwin’s 20-mile bus ride back to school palatable.
“We just have an inexperienced offense, and hopefully at some point they grow up,’’ he said. “This is why our league is so good in the playoffs. It’s going out for 48 minutes and having to defend everything at the end. It’s a lot better learning from a win than a loss.’’