By Randy Bruns
DELPHOS -- A pair of Division VI, region 24 heavyweights squared off at Stadium Park Friday night, and when the final bell tolled, the St. John's Blue Jays had beaten the Marion Local Flyers, 17-14, in what would best be called a split decision.
All the scoring took place in the first half of action, and from the way both offenses were performing, it looked like the last team to have the ball may come away with the victory.
Both defenses shored things up in the second half, however, and though there were some offensive drive, neither squad was able to come up with a big play.
The Flyers certainly had their chances in the second half, as they drove into Blue Jay territory on their first two drives.
Taking the ball to start the third quarter, the visitors drove 53 yards in 10 plays but failed to score when Dan Fortkamp's 34-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left. Marion took to the ground on its second drive of the half and looked ready to take the lead. After 10 rushes brought the ball 52 yards to St. John's 23, Marion faced a fourth-and-one situation.
Despite bringing in the full house backfield that had worked throughout the night, Marion was stuffed and St. John's got the ball back.
The Flyers defense stiffened enough to get the ball back twice more, but the next possession ended in a three-and-out and the final try ended when three incompletions were followed by a fourth-down interception.
"That was pretty much what I expected," said St. John's coach Todd Schulte of the tight game. "When Marion Local and St. John's get together it's a dogfight, and it's too bad one of the teams had to lose. Our kids kept fighting, and some things went our way and some didn't. Our defense was on the field quite a bit in the second half but they came up with a super stop like they've been doing all year."
The Blue Jays started the game with a bang when Andrew DeWitt took the opening kickoff back to the Flyers' 7-yard line. After netting just two yards on three plays, though, the hosts had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Pat Kundert.
The Flyers quickly responded and used a balanced offensive attack to drive 56 yards on 11 plays for their initial score. A key 17-yard run by Curtis Moeller on fourth down set up a one-yard touchdown run by the senior, and Fortkamp's PAT kick gave the Flyers a 7-3 advantage.
On Marion's next possession a fumble gave St. John's the field position advantage, as a punt pinned the visitors down on their own four-yard line. After the resulting punt gave St. John's the ball at the Marion 35 the hosts needed just three plays to take the lead back.
Once again the Flyers countered, as Stucke completed three passes to get into Blue Jay territory and then hooked up with Mitch Thobe on a 23-yard scoring strike. After the successful conversion kick the Flyers were ahead 14-10.
St. John's scored what turned out to be the winning points on its next drive. As they did almost all night, the hosts stuck to their option attack and used just seven plays to go 64 yards, with Curtis Laudick going the final five for the go-ahead touchdown.
"It was definitely a field position battle,, said Marion coach Tim Goodwin. "We did some costly things as far as field position goes, and I really thought we'd have the edge in special teams but it didn't work out that way. They got 10 points off of field position with the opening kickoff and then the fumble, and that's the story of the game right there."
Statistically speaking, the Flyers came out on top as they outgained the Blue Jays 271 yards to 171 yards and gained 16 first downs to just 10 for the hosts. When it came to making big plays when it counted, though, the Blue Jays held the upper hand.
Marion, now 5-3 overall and 4-3 in the Midwest Athletic Conference, returns home on Friday to take on Lehman. The Flyers will likely have to win their next two games to return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
St. John's, 7-1 on the year and 5-1 in the MAC, will travel to New Bremen on Friday.