After shutting out Herrin last week the Marion defense came within 54 seconds of doing it again at Jerseyville, leading the Wildcats to a 48-22 win and a 2-0 record to start the season.
"We had a lot of improvement and with the next several weeks we better keep getting better because it's going to get tougher," said Marion Coach Kerry Martin. "There were a lot of momentum swings early on and they happened so quickly. Those are the things that can be good or bad for you, so I was real proud of the way the kids didn't flinch."
Marion (2-0) remains on the road this week with a game at Highland Friday. Since 2004 Marion leads that series 8-4, including winning the last two meetings, 48-28, last year at home and 30-29 in 2019 on the road. Highland is 1-1, beating Washington 54-10 in Week 1 and losing a 31-28 squeaker to Edwardsville last week.
Against Jerseyville, the only points the Wildcat defense gave up was on the Bulldogs' last play of the game -- with 54 seconds left to go and the reserves playing. The starters held Highland to just eight first downs and 96 total yards -- 15 rushing and 81 passing -- while forcing four turnovers, resulting in two touchdowns while also scoring a safety. The Wildcats also had two sacks.
Senior linebacker Toxey Rudd led the Wildcats with seven total tackles, while outside linebacker Cooper Thompson had five solo tackles and two interceptions. Defensive lineman Maurice Marvin scored a safety, with linebacker Jordyn Beverly and defensive tackle Jalen Elliott recovering a fumble apiece. Beverly and defensive lineman Titus Garnett had the sacks.
The Wildcat offense rebounded from a sluggish start last week when it was held to just eight points over the first three quarters. This past Friday the offense scored 38 in the first half.
"We had more big play potential than we had the first week," Martin said. "The offensive line had a good night."
After having his first 100-yard game last week, junior running back Patrick Walker almost doubled his output with 199 yards on 13 carries, including touchdown runs of 65 and 8 yards.
Senior quarterback Evan Noelle completed 11 of 18 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Noelle also rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown. Senior running back Tommy Wiseman finished with four catches for 94 yards.
The game got off with a bang with Noelle and Wiseman turning a fast screen in the left flat into a 75-yard touchdown catch and run on the second play. Brody Larson ran in the two-point conversion and the Wildcats led 8-0 just 20 seconds into the game.
The lead lasted just 12 seconds. Highland returned the kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown and ran their own two-point conversion. Once again the score was tied.
After Marion turned the ball over on downs at the Jerseyville 38 the Bulldogs began to move the ball, but Thompson changed the momentum with his first interception at the Marion 25.
Marion marched down the field on 11 plays and Noelle scored from the 13. During the drive Noelle ran the ball four times for 40 yards and threw three passes (completing two) for 23 yards. The two-point conversion failed leaving Marion with a 14-8 lead with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
The Marion defense came up big again two plays later when Elliott caused and recovered a fumble at the Jerseyville 39. Noelle immediately moved the ball down to 28 on a five-yard pass and a six-yard run.
However, on the next play Noelle's pass in the flat went off the hands of the receiver and into the hands of a Bulldog defender who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good and Highland took the lead 15-14 with 29 seconds left.
It took the Wildcats just 16 seconds to retake the lead for good. After Walker returned the kickoff 14 yards to the 35 he burst up the middle untouched for a 65-yard touchdown. Beverly ran in the two-point conversion and Marion led 22-15.
"It was a scoring frenzy for a while," Martin laughed. "We try for what we call a fireman's mentality. Firemen don't ask who started the fire they just put it out. It was no time to point fingers, so I loved the fact our kids kept putting out fires on both sides of the ball. Football is a constant battle against adversity. Whether it's the opposition, momentum swings, penalties or the weather conditions -- it rained most of the game -- you have to learn to overcome those."
The Wildcats added to their lead in the second quarter scoring on their first two possessions. Following a short punt Marion needed six plays to drive 39 yards, finishing with Beverly scoring from the seven. Beverly also ran in the two-point conversion.
The next possession took just two plays with Walker bursting up the middle again for 69 yards to the 2 and Larson scoring from there and running in the two-point conversion. The lead was 38-15 at the half.
"I felt good at halftime," Martin said. "We were settled down after that scoring frenzy. Their scoring came off a kickoff return and an interception, so I felt our defense was doing a very good job."
Thompson picked off his second interception in the third quarter, setting his offense up at the Jerseyville 28. Following an incomplete pass Walker ran the ball down to the eight and scored on the next play. Wiseman scored the two-pointer to give Marion a 46-15 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Marvin sacked the Bulldog quarterback in the end zone with 8:46 remaining for the final two points.