By Joe Sengewalt
Times West Virginian
People say you’re only as good as your last performance.
For North Marion senior Ryan Elliott, the last outing of his high school football career was his best, and junior Austin Stanley followed suit.
Elliott and Stanley both turned in outstanding individual efforts to help the Huskies close out the 2013 season with back-to-back wins as they cruised past winless Grafton, 44-20, here Friday evening at McKinney Field.
With the victory North ended the year 3-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big 10 Conference. Grafton, on the other hand, fell to 0-8-1 overall and to 0-5-1 in the league. The Bearcats will close out the season next Friday at home when they host 6-3 Ritchie County.
The past several weeks North has gone back to basic football, and it’s paid dividends in the form of victories in three of its last five games for the Huskies. Spearheading a successful ground attack for North has been Elliott and Stanley. Friday night that duo combined for 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the win over Grafton.
Elliott finished with a career-high 223 yards on the ground on 33 carries and scored one TD.
“It feels pretty awesome to get my first 200-yard game in my last high school game ever,” said Elliott, who finished the season with 825 rushing yards. “Our linemen blocked phenomenal tonight. They had Grafton on skates all night long. The holes were there. They did a great job, and all I had to do was run through them.
“Grafton is definitely better than their record shows. Tonight, though, we just executed well. The past few weeks we starting running stuff that we liked and were good at, and we’ve been perfecting it each week and getting better and better. It just feels great to close out the year with back-to-back wins.”
When Elliott wasn’t doing damage on the ground for the Huskies, Stanley was. In fact, Stanley did damage for North on both sides of the football, finishing with a career-high three rushing touchdowns and 109 yards rushing on just eight carries. He also intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble on defense.
“I just wanted to do my part to send our seniors out with a victory,” said Stanley, who had scoring runs of nine, 19 and 38 yards in the win. “Both Elliott and I ran the ball well tonight. Our line did a nice job of blocking for us, and our fullback J.J. Rogers helped open some big holes.
“All week we game-planned to mainly run the football, and tonight we executed it with success like we have here the last few weeks.”
North Marion registered a season-high in points and total yards (468) in the victory, and never trailed after scoring on its first four possessions of the night.
“We really got clicking early with the ground game,” said Husky coach Daran Hays. “We established the line of scrimmage, and Elliott and Stanley ran hard. When we can control the clock like we did tonight, we’re tough to beat.”
Leading 24-14 at halftime, North recorded the first two scores of the second half, on Stanley’s third touchdown run midway through the third quarter and a six-yard hookup from freshman quarterback Kyle Elliott to senior receiver Chase Banker with just under six minutes left in the game to seal things for the Huskies.
Kyle Elliott completed five of his 10 pass attempts for 118 yards and two scores, including the first career reception for senior Logan Merrifield, a 54-yard strike in the game’s final minutes.
North’s 3-7 final record signified just a modest one-game improvement from last season, but Hays felt it could have been even better.
“I think this team really improved throughout the year, particularly in the last five games,” he said. “We competed well this year with a number of playoff-caliber teams.”
Grafton finished the contest with 280 total yards. Freshman quarterback Cole Collins ended up 12-of-19 passing for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once. Collins also ran for 26 yards on 10 carries.