Monday, November 30th, 2009
By Randy Bruns
Marion Local falls one win short
Blue Jays beat Flyers in overtime and move on to D-VI state final
WAPAKONETA - Saturday night's Division VI state semifinal between Marion Local and Delphos St. John's was one for the ages.
Unfortunately for the Flyers from Maria Stein, it was also one that ended in victory for the Blue Jays.
The St. John's defense turned back a Marion drive late in the fourth quarter and held fast in overtime before the Blue Jays scored the decisive touchdown to give them a thrilling 13-7 victory.
The win propels St. John's, now 14-0, to next Saturday's state final against 14-0 Norwalk St. Paul, the same school the Blue Jays beat in the 1997 and 1999 finals. Marion Local ends its streaky, but memorable, season with an 8-6 record.
Though the Flyers lost this one in overtime, it was late in the fourth quarter when they had their best chance to win. With the score tied at seven-apiece, the Flyers took the ball from their own 21-yard line and moved methodically down the field like a slinky down a staircase.
Quarterback Jarren Griesdorn started the march with a 15-yard keeper, and Niles Keller later kept things going with a 16-yard dash that brought the ball to the St. John's 30-yard line. Three more rushes netted just five yards and with a 42-yard field goal too long to consider, the Flyers went for broke but Griesdorn's pass attempt fell incomplete.
"I didn't feel good about (going to) overtime, not with their kind of offense," said Marion coach Tim Goodwin, whose last overtime game was his first ever as coach of the Flyers in 1999. "We had a chance there late in the fourth, and that was our shot, but St. John's made the play."
St. John's won the toss to determine the order of overtime, so Marion got the ball first. Keller cashed in on a fourth-and-two to give his team four more cracks at paydirt, but his next three runs gained just four yards. Goodwin then eschewed a potential go-ahead field-goal try, and Griesdorn's screen pass to Keller was batted down by Derek Klaus to hold Marion scoreless.
Then the Blue Jays got their shot and gained six yards on their first two rushes before quarterback Wes Ulm took things into his own hands. The Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year took a shotgun snap and raced over right end before sprinting to the corner and diving in for the winning touchdown.
According to Goodwin, a field-goal try was never an option in overtime.
"When we went into overtime there was (going to be) no field goal," said Goodwin. "We were in four-down territory from the word 'go'. They get the ball at the 20-yard line, and with them in four-down territory what are the chances we're going to stop them?"
The first half was a down and dirty defensive battle, with neither team able to dent the other's red zone. On their first possession, the Flyers got a 27-yard run from Keller to bring the ball to the Blue Jays' 21, but a fumble quickly short-circuited that opportunity. The Blue Jays later moved the ball inside the Flyers' 40 just before halftime, but a big sack of Ulm forced a punt.
St. John's finally got its option game clicking on its first drive of the second half, as Ulm led his team on an 83-yard drive for the first points of the night. Ten rushes brought the ball to the Marion 20, and on fourth-and-five Ulm found Jay Clark over the middle for 19 yards. Two plays later, Ulm dove over the pile for a touchdown, and Josh Rode's point-after gave St. John's a 7-0 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter the Flyers pulled back even. Brandon Arling recovered a fumble to give his team new life, and the Flyers' offense struck quickly. Keller ran three times for 28 yards, and then Griesdorn lofted a perfect spiral that landed in the outstretched arms of Jared Prenger for a 30-yard scoring strike. Mitch Bergman nailed the point-after kick to make the score 7-7, where it would stay through regulation.
"The old adage goes that defense wins championships," said St. John's coach Todd Schulte. "It hasn't won us one yet, but at least we're going to play in a championship game. Our defense kept coming up big, and it was back and forth between the two defenses. I guess if you're a defensive type of football fan you got your money's worth tonight."
The Flyers' defense was also phenomenal on the night, as it held the Blue Jays to just 13 points, which was 28 points below their season average of 41 points per contest. Also, tailback Jordan Leininger was limited to just 70 yards rushing on 20 attempts for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. The junior had averaged 8.2 yards per rush during the regular season.
On the offensive side of the ball the Flyers got a big lift once again from the running of Keller. The junior racked up 142 yards on 33 carries to become just the fifth Flyer to top the 1,500 yard mark in a season.
Though the Flyers fell short of their ultimate goal of a fifth state title, it was just six weeks ago that they were stuck in the mire of a five-game losing streak that dropped their record to 3-5. After that nadir, a final four appearance looks pretty darned good.
"It was so frustrating when we were 3-5 because the coaches knew what we had in us," summed up Goodwin. "It was a low period for us, but we bounced back. We were one play away (tonight) from being as low as we could get to reaching the pinnacle."
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