The Marceline Tigers braved a hostile environment, viciously cold weather conditions, and an undefeated and state-ranked opponent to claim their first District Championship since the 2009 season. Sure, the team has had playoff games after District’s in seasons since then, but not District Titles.
The cold and windy Cal Hubbard Field, or as it is more commonly known, The Pit, made for difficulties passing, and hard ground conditions. Noting this, Milan fumbled their first offensive snap to the Tigers defense. Marceline took over at the Milan 30 yard line.
Belzer used two runs to set up the 22-yard touchdown run to put Marceline on the board, and take advantage of the turnover. Isaac Smith added the point-after. With 10:30 left in the opening quarter, Marceline held a 7-0 lead.
Milan would earn a first down on a long pass on their next drive. But tackles for a loss by Belzer and Trey King, and a fourth down pass being broken up by Dalton Fisher, would give the Tigers back the pigskin.
The teams would both exchange three-and-out’s on their next drives. Belzer would snap the drought of first downs with a 12-yard run for the Tigers. On a Fourth and Eight deep in Milan territory, Blake Linebaugh hit Belzer in the numbers on a slant route for another Marceline touchdown from 22 yards out. The extra point was no good. With 1:33 left in the first quarter, Marceline led Milan 13-0.
“This is pretty awesome, and the farthest we have some in a while,” said Belzer. “We wouldn’t be anywhere without our linemen. They are the heart and soul of our team.”
The teams exchanged possessions to run out the first quarter, and into the second quarter. The lone scoring play of the second frame came on Marceline’s third drive of the quarter.
An interception by Fisher was returned to the Wildcats 20 yard line. Belzer would use four carries to take the ball to the house. The score would come on a seven-yard run. His conversion run, though,was just short of the end zone. With 2:05 left in the first half, Marceline led 19-0, a score that would remain true at halftime.
Marceline would move the ball well in the second half on offense, but would not score. Belzer carried the ball like the workhorse back he is, accounting for nearly all of the Tigers runs. Defensively, Marceline continued to pitch a shutout, bending but not breaking to the powerful Milan offensive attack.
The lone score of the second half came in the third quarter, when Belzer picked off an errant pass at the Milan 43, and took it to the house for a Pick Six. Smith added the point-after. With 4:59 left in the third quarter, Marceline led 26-0. They would carry this total to the finale of the contest.
Page 2 of 2 - “I am really proud of our kids,” said Head Coach Paul Thomas. “They have really gotten better throughout the year. I am proud of what they have done for both the team and the community. We are excited to host a Quarterfinal game on Saturday. This is the first time in four or five years we have been this far. We have a great group of kids, and I can’t say how proud of them I am.”
Looking at the stats from the LCL, the teams were nearly identical offensively. The key difference came in the turnover battle, with Milan losing multiple possessions, and Marceline converting those chances into scores. The Black Rage defense had four picks on the night, with Belzer, Dakota Lewis, Linebaugh and Fisher all netting interceptions.
After the game, the two teams gathered as one at midfield, and the Milan coaches showed great class by congratulating both teams on great seasons. The teams then learned about a player from Tipton who was laid up in a hospital bed in rough shape. The teams joined in a joint prayer for them, their health, and the family of this young athlete. This was a great showing of camaraderie and sportsmanship by both teams and coaching staffs.
This Saturday, the Tigers advance to the State Quarterfinals to take on undefeated and state-ranked Westran. The Tigers and Hornets are no strangers to one another, as Marceline was downed by Westran earlier in the season.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Chester Ray Stadium this Saturday. As this is a MSHSAA playoff game, passes will not be accepted at the gate.