By Randy Bruns
MARIA STEIN -- The Marion Local Flyers took a giant step toward salvaging a season that had been in a downward spiral with an electrifying 22-14 victory over the Versailles Tigers Friday at Booster Field.
The Flyers, just 1-4 on the year before this game, were decided underdogs against the 5-0 Tigers, who came into the game riding a 23-game winning streak and sitting atop the latest Associated Press Division IV poll.
As is commonly said in rivalry games, though, you may as well throw the records out the window when these two neighbors do battle on the gridiron.
Marion hung around all game long despite a punishing Versailles running attack, and late in the fourth quarter, the hosts made key plays when it counted.
Down 14-7 with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the Flyers went on a 10-play drive that ended with Ryan Stucke hooking up with Tyler Speelman in the corner of the endzone for a 15-yard scoring strike. Eschewing the potential tying extra point kick, the Flyers went for two and hit the jackpot when Stucke found Speelman again to put the hosts up 15-14 with just over a minute and a half to go.
After the ensuing kick, the Tigers got the ball back on their own 30 but Marc Otte picked off a Tony McNeilan pass and raced up the sideline before being tackled at the Versailles five. Three plays later Curtis Moeller swept in from three yards out, and after Dan Fortkamp's extra point the Flyers held an eight-point lead.
The Tigers' final possession made the Flyer faithful nervous to the end, as two passes and a penalty on Marion gave the visitors a first down at the Flyers' 24. The Flyer defense stepped up the pressure on McNeilan, though, resulting in four straight incompletions and an unlikely Flyer victory.
"In overtime they would have gotten the ball at the 20, and that's four-down territory," said Marion coach Tim Goodwin of going for the win on the two-point conversion. "Our best defense ever would have a hard time stopping them because of their tough running backs and big physical line. We weren't very interested in going for overtime."
Versailles coach Al Hetrick lamented his team's inability to put the Flyers away.
"We kept getting down close and didn't put it in the endzone," said Hetrick. "When you do that as many times as we did, a good team will come back and beat you and Marion's a good football team. They weren't really a 1-4 football team, and we knew that coming in. We very seldom play well up here, and this sure wasn't our night."
Flyer senior Steve Otte, who lives near the Versailles school district, was especially proud of the win.
"Just seeing my neighbors on the other side of the ball was big," said Otte. "We needed this win, and hopefully it can put us on the right track. Beating Versailles is a big confidence booster."
The Flyers got on the board first early in the second quarter. Senior Joey Kemper stepped in front of a McNeilan pass and returned it to the Tiger 14, and four plays later Stucke hit Moeller for a 9-yard touchdown.
Versailles came back with a patented Tigerball drive. After an incompletion to start the drive, Hetrick called 11 straight runs with the last one a two-yard scoring sneak by McNeilan.
The Flyers then drove deep into Tiger territory before Matt Murphy picked off a Stucke pass and returned it to the Versailles 41. McNeilan then played beat the clock, as the sophomore engineered a 10-play drive in the last two minutes that ended with a five-yard touchdown run from Adam Francis.
Unlike last week's game against Minster, when Marion dominated the box score but came up short in the points column, the hosts were on the short end of most of the statistics in this one. The Tigers outgained the Flyers 315-178 and garnered 18 first downs to just eight for the Flyers.
With the 1-4 start dimming hopes of a sixth straight playoff appearance, Goodwin hopes this win can be the start of something special.
"We have the firepower to be in the rest of our games," said Goodwin. "They're all going to be tight and they're all going to be tough. Hopefully tonight will serve as a spark for the rest of the season."
Versailles, now 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the Midwest Athletic Conference, returns home next week to take on a tough New Bremen squad. Marion, 2-4 on the year and 2-3 in the MAC, will travel to Fort Recovery to take on the Indians.