The Marceline Tigers faced what proved to be their greatest challenge yet this season on Friday, traveling to Hunstville to face Westran in mucky conditions. Though the Hornets battled back late to force the game back within one possession, Marceline walked away victorious, 25-22.
Marceline continues its flawless run at 8-0, and Westran suffers its second loss of the season.
"We might see these guys again (in the district championship), and if we do, I can guarantee it will be a dogfight," Marceline coach Greg Hough said. "At times, we were good on the offensive and defensive side. Luckily, I didn't feel like I had to say a whole lot after the game. The kids always clap us in and hoot and holler, but tonight they were pretty quiet. They know that we battled to get a victory."
The Tigers rolled to a 20-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter, and Rylan Chrisman scooted across the plane on each of their first two touchdowns.
Marceline went for it on fourth and one from the Westran five after a badly thrown ball by Westran quarterback Alex Young gave it possession at the 14, and Chrisman punched it in. After an ensuing three-and-out by Westran, Billups completed a 30-yard haul to Levi Terrell to get the Tigers within the Hornet five, and the visitors stormed it in again.
Three minutes later, Billups hooked up with Terrell again from 31 yards out for a touchdown. Although the Hornets suffered a 20-point deficit with ample time remaining in the second quarter, they would have a lot to say before all was said and done.
Late in the first half, Westran capped off a 70-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass from do-it-all Young to senior receiver Chris Evans. Marceline kicker Cullen Bruner clanked a 32-yarder off of the right upright on the final play of the half, and the teams returned to the locker room at 20-7.
In the second half, Westran prevented Marceline from ever entering the endzone. The Hornets closed a 50-yard drive with a 16-yard Young designed run for a touchdown, and converted the ensuing extra point to give them life at 20-14.
The Tigers pinned Westran inside its own two-yard line with little time left to play in the third quarter, and an intentional grounding call on Young in the endzone gave the Tigers an additional pair of points. They would tack on a field goal with five minutes remaining in the fourth, giving Marceline its final tally of 25.
After burning all of its timeouts to get the ball back, and deep in its own territory, Westran showed signs of the potency for which its offense is touted. With less than three minutes remaining in the game, Young led a drive 85 yards downfield in the span of under a minute and a half, capped with a 27-yard Avery Hammond touchdown grab.
The Hornets converted the two-point attempt to bring the score back within three, but were unable to recover the onside kick. Marceline was perfectly contented to kneel out the remaining clock.
"We're telling them we're proud of them," Westran coach Lance Massey said following the loss. "They did what we asked them to do, which was give us an opportunity to win a ballgame at the end. It's tough when you dig yourself a 20-point hole against a great team, but I'm happy with the kids' fight. Tonight, it would have been really easy to say 'we're ready to go home.' They decided not to do that, and believed in what we were doing."
The Tigers finished with 99 yards on the ground and 143 through the air. Rylan Chrisman was held to just 77 yards on 26 attempts, averaging less than three yards per carry. Terrell and Trey Hamilton tied for a game-high four receptions, and Billups was 14-of-22 on the evening.
"We were prepared for them to be ready for us," Billups said after the gritty win. "We wanted to run the ball better, but they loaded the box and ran us down back-side. They out-hustled us at some points. They set the tempo and started coming back, but we fought."
The Tigers play their final regular-season matchup Friday in Harrisburg.