ARMAGH – The final score isn’t indicative of the effort the United Lions put forth Friday night.
The record will show undefeated Marion Center (5-0) trounced United, 44-14, but it didn’t quite have the feel of a 30-point blowout victory. The Lions stayed within striking distance of the unbeaten Stingers for the first three quarters, before Marion Center put the game away with a 20-point fourth.
“I’m happy for our kids. We played hard. I mean, what more can you ask?” United coach Kevin Marabito said. “I’m very proud of what our kids did tonight. That was an undefeated football team, and the score doesn’t show the effort our kids put in tonight.”
In what might have been United’s (1-5) season finale, Hunter Cameron rushed for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 55-yarder in the first quarter. Quarterback Eli Clevenger added 67 rushing yards, but he also threw a pair of interceptions.
United’s undoing started on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Trailing 24-14 and facing a fourth-and-2 on their own 11-yard line, Marabito called for a fake punt. Cameron was stopped for a 1-yard gain, and the Lions turned the ball over on downs on their own 12. Marion Center scored two plays later to extend its lead to 31-14.
“I gambled on that fourth-down play,” Marabito said. “I mean, what did I have to lose? That’s the thing. We gambled on it, and that gave them a little momentum, but the kids did everything we asked. … and just some breaks didn’t go our way.”
One of those unfortunate breaks was a play on the Lions’ ensuing possession.
With about eight minutes to play, freshman Caden McCully caught Clevenger’s second completion of the night on a short slant route, and he turned it into a 45-yard catch-and-run. But as he was getting tackled from behind, he fumbled the ball at the Marion Center 10-yard line with 8:16 to play.
Three plays later, Marion Center quarterback Ty Ryen connected with backup quarterback Gaven Palko for an 86-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-6, giving the Stingers a 38-14 lead with 6:47 remaining.
Although Marion Center was finally able to put the game away, United’s fighting spirit didn’t come as a surprise to Stingers’ coach Adam Rising.
“I look at Coach Marabito’s team, and they’re a team that’s made improvements throughout the course of the year,” Rising said. “From when we saw them earlier on film, to the (film) last two weeks. … We knew it was going to be a battle within the tackle boxes, and they were able to establish the run game early in that first quarter, and our kids made some adjustments and so forth, but I have a lot of respect for United and the way they play football.”
Cameron’s first touchdown of the day, the 55-yarder, tied the game at 6, and Clevenger’s PAT gave United a 7-6 lead midway through the opening quarter.
After Marion Center went ahead 17-7 in the second quarter, United pieced together a workmanlike 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive on its final possession of the first half to get within 17-14 on Cameron’s 22-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left in the second quarter.
Marion Center responded with its own long scoring drive and took a 24-14 lead into the halftime break, and the score remained the same until the fourth quarter.
Ryen threw for 165 yards, and he also ran for a pair of short touchdowns for the Stingers. Xavier Vaglia ran for 141 yards and a touchdown, and Palko finished with three catches for 123 yards.