By Andy Amey
Only 29 seconds remained Saturday afternoon when Marshall’s Lions finally realized their 11-game high school football winning streak had come to an end.
Taylor Duncan’s fourth-down pass had fallen incomplete, visiting Maroa-Forsyth had the ball — and a 17-point lead — and the Lions’ offensive unit trooped dejectedly off the field.
At which point, the red-clad fans that filled the Marshall bleachers — including the temporary ones that rounded the corners at both end zones — and lined the fences where there were no bleachers rose en masse, saluting their heroes for a job well done.
“This is a great thing for the community too,” said senior defensive end Dalton Sanders when asked about the Lions’ season later. “We’ve had tons of support in both sports [Sanders is one of several football players who also reached the Illinois Final Four in basketball eight months ago], and it’s an awesome ride.
“You come off the field and you’re getting congratulations from people you don’t know, people you’ve never seen before,” Sanders continued. “You never think about that — but it feels good.”
“It’s been a blast,” added senior tight end Dustin Morey. “We went as far [in football] as the ‘79 team. [The season has] been fun — it seems short, though.”
Morey is another player who experienced both Final Fours.
“It’s awesome, unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve heard we’re the first class to do that … but we had a lot of help from the seniors in basketball [last spring], and the sophomores really stepped up this year [in football].”
“Football-wise, this has been the greatest all-around team I’ve ever been a part of,” said Duncan. “We went out and fought hard, but Maroa is a good team and they came out on top at the end.
“I’m really proud to be part of this team, such a hard-working team,” Duncan continued. “I can’t say enough about them.”
The Lions lost their first game of the season and, as all but eight Illinois playoff teams do, their last one. Between those games, however, they were unbeaten for almost three full months.
“We bounced back against Mahomet[-Seymour, a Class 4A playoff team the Lions beat on the road in the second game of the year] and we played well since then,” said senior tackle Tyler Bishop. “You always want to believe you can [win all the rest of the games], but looking at it now it’s hard to believe we won every game [since the opener].”
Although Marshall trailed 17-0 at halftime against “by far the most talented team we’ve seen,” coach Todd Evers said later, the Lions came back in the third quarter and nearly pulled off a win.
Although Marshall had been seeded higher than the Trojans, Maroa-Forsyth was the top-ranked Class 2A team in the preseason poll. The Trojans came in at 10-2 — the most losses the team had experienced in one season since 2004, coach Josh Jostes noted after the game.
“We played a great Marshall team and a great quarterback,” Jostes said after the game. “[The Lions] kind of took momentum back in the second half … and their kids did a great job containing [all-state fullback Dalton Coventry, held to 19 yards rushing until the game’s final drive].”
An interception return for a touchdown blunted Marshall’s momentum somewhat. The Trojans turned Marshall’s three turnovers into 17 points, in fact.
“We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” Morey said. “[The Trojans] made mistakes, but we made bigger ones.”
While sad that their own high school football careers are over, the four seniors will be happy to continue as fans of the next few Marshall teams.
“I’ve made friends I’ll never lose,” said Bishop, “but [the Lions] are going to be real good next year. I expect the same the thing out of them [that we accomplished].”
“It was an awesome experience,” said Sanders. “Working with a lot of younger guys is a great thing for a senior.”
The hero of the playoff win over Casey a week earlier, Sanders said, “I’ve improved a lot from last year … and I see Trey Trudeau [a junior who played the opposite defensive end for this year’s Lions], being the same way I was.”
But there are still some things those four want to accomplish too. They’ll report Monday afternoon for basketball practice.
“We want to see if we can go back to Peoria [for the Final Four] again,” Morey concluded.
• Trojan power — I’ve covered two games involving Maroa-Forsyth, and if the Trojans go on to win their second state championship next week — as they did in 2006, after winning the Casey game that I covered — they might be asking me to move to the Decatur area to cover them more often.
Each time I’ve seen them they’ve had a truly awesome player — quarterback Luke Hockaday (who is now at Millikin, I was told) three years ago and linebacker/fullback Dalton Coventry this season. The Lions did a great job of gang-tackling Coventry — who looks a lot bigger than his listed weight of 218 — for three quarters, but his blitzing pretty much shut down the Marshall passing game in the first half.
• Not a fashion statement — One of the first things I noticed after Tom Reck and I arrived at Marshall on Saturday was that the Marshall student managers were all wearing heavy, knee-high boots.
I found out why before long.
Walking the sidelines was a little bit of a challenge. Crossing the field after the game to talk to Jostes revealed that the middle of the field was ankle-deep muck. How the players were able to pick up their feet at all, let alone run, was a mystery to me. It made Duncan’s 12-yard, slow-motion, juke-every-defender-on-the-field touchdown run even more impressive.
To alter an old expression, it was not to windy to haul rocks — but it was definitely too wet to plow.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. for comments or news items at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.