RACHEL – For the second time in as many weeks, an opponent that was down in 2018 came into Roy Michael Field as a vastly-improved version this time around.
Last week it was East Fairmont – a squad that snapped a 13-game losing streak a week later – that the Huskies bested. This time it was the Preston (1-1) – a group that came in riding high off a 37-14 Week 1 win over Hampshire in which the team gained 350 yards of total offense.
A dominant performance defensively by the Huskies (2-0) Friday thwarted Preston’s attempt to pick up a second consecutive win to start the season, as the Knights were held to just 101 total yards of offense in their 34-22 defeat.
“I just think we played physical,” sophomore defensive lineman Kaden Hovatter said. “We knew what we needed to do, and we did it the best we could.”
Hovatter helped set the tone defensively with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery, but he was far from alone. Garrett Conaway and Jarrett Reed each recorded sacks, while Jacob Clevenger, Ricky Newbrough, Gage Dickson and Chase Duckworth all recorded tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“I thought we did a really nice job, even when we were out-beefed, pushing them off the ball,” North Marion head coach Daran Hays said. “I thought that was really crucial to our success.”
While North Marion’s defense came out red hot, the offense took a bit to get going. Quarterback Gunner Murphy was intercepted on his first pass attempt by Colten Rosenberger, and the Huskies failed to score until the final moments of the first quarter.
They finally broke though when Murphy, facing a third and long from their own 23 following a timeout, floated a bomb down the right sideline that was hauled in by Jahkari Mesidor, who raced 77 yards for the score to put North Marion up 6-0 with 5 second left in the opening frame.
Soon after Mesidor’s TD, Ricky Newbrough got in on the scoring action with a 4-yard touchdown run with 5:30 to play in the half. It was the first of three scores on the night for Newbrough, who led all rushers with 102 yards on 16 carries.
Now leading 12-0, the Huskies faced their first real adversity of the night. After being forced to punt a second time in as many snaps due to a penalty, punter Hunter Kuhn had a rain-soaked ball bounce off the side of his foot which allowed Robbie Stinson to scoop it up and carry it to the NMHS 15 yardline late in the half.
Three plays later, Jesse Gribble punched in a 5-yard run to make the score 12-6.
“That was the one disappointment of the night,” Hays said. “If they would have scored in seven plays I would have been OK with it. But I felt like our head was down as soon as we experienced a negative.”
Heads didn’t hang for long, however, as North Marion marched down the field in a perfectly-executed drive that took the final 1:07 off the clock.
The key play on the drive came on a third and long when Mesidor hauled in a 29-yard pass from Murphy on third down, giving NMHS first-and-goal from the 6. Once again, third down-efficiency played a major role for the Huskies.
“I like to think it goes back to what we’ve talked about all year, which is just locking in on the individual down and focusing on winning that down,” Hays said. “I think defensively – from a coordinator standpoint – you call third downs differently. If the offense is just treating it like another down, it’s a whole different mentality.”
After two incompletions, Newbrough took an option pitch from Murphy on third down and scampered in for a 6-yard touchdown as the half expired, giving North Marion a 20-6 lead.
“That’s two weeks in a row that we’ve executed a really solid two-minute drill in two completely different situations,” Hays said, reflecting on a similar situation against East Fairmont in Week 1. “This one wasn’t as long and a little less time with one timeout, but I think we managed the clock well.”
North Marion didn’t miss a beat to open the second half.
Newbrough scored his third TD of the night on the ground, this time from 16 yards out, putting the Huskies up 28-6. The North Marion starters played one series into the fourth quarter, with Murphy hooking up with Adam Hoffman on a 15-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 34-6.
Murphy exited the game after completing 11-of-21 passes for 214 yards, two TDs and an INT. His top target was Mesidor, who had four catches for 133 yards and a TD, while Ethan Raines had three catches for 42 yards and Conaway had one reception for 16.
The North Marion reserves surrendered two touchdowns to the Preston starters, the first coming on a 48-yard TD pass from Rosenberger – in at QB for an injured Trevor Thomas – to Jaxon Lewis, and the second on a 35-yard scoop and score fumble recovery by Richard Layton.
North Marion’s starters came back in to close things out, and a couple of first-down runs by Kaden Pavalok, who had 27 rushing yards, ran out the final moments, giving North the win.
In all, the Huskies had 405 total yards of offense, with 13 players touching the ball.
Preston's offense — something that saw little resistance in Week 1 against Hampshire — was bottled up all night and could not find the big plays on the perimeter on which it feasted a week ago.
“They told us to hold the edge on defense and make sure that nothing gets outside of us,” Hovatter said of his coaches’ instruction. “(We tried) to keep them inside of us the best we could.”
Rosenberger led the Knights with 37 rushing yards, while Gribble added 33.
North Marion now is poised for its toughest test yet. On Thursday, the Huskies travel down the Husky Highway to land at East-West Stadium where they will play defending state champions Fairmont Senior.
“Against those guys we can’t have the slow starts that we’ve had – because it won’t be 6-0,” Hays said. “We have to play efficiently on each side of the ball.”
Preston will play its first home game of the year when John Marshall comes to town on Friday.
Follow Sean McNamara on Twitter at @SMcNamaraWV.
North Marion 34 Preston 22
North Marion (2-0) Preston (1-1)
NMHS - 6 14 8 6 - 34
NMHS - 6 14 8 6 - 34
PHS - 0 6 0 16 - 22
Score by Quarter
NMHS - Jahkari Mesidor 77-yard pass from Gunner Murphy (Malachi Funkhouser kick failed)
NMHS - Ricky Newbrough 4-yard run (run failed)
PHS - Jesse Gribble 5-yard run (Trevor Thomas kick failed)
NMHS - Ricky Newbrough 6-yard run (Ethan Raines run)
NMHS - Ricky Newbrough 16-yard run (Murphy run)
NMHS - Adam Hoffman 15-yard pass from Murphy (kick failed)
PHS - Jaxon Lewis 48-yard pass from Colten Rosenberger (Rosenberger run)
PHS - Richard Layton 35-yard fumble return (Lewis catch)
First Downs 18 7
Pass/run/penalty 9/8/1 6/1/0
Penalties/yards 7/55 5/43
Run plays 41 34
Run yards 178 50
Yards per run 4.34 1.47
Pass plays (Comp/Att/Int) 12/24/1 3/11/0
Pass yards 227 51
Total yards 405 101
Total plays 65 45
Yards per play 6.2 1.9
PASSING: NMHS – Gunner Murphy 11-21-1 178 yards 2 TD, Brody Hall 1-3-0 13 yards; PHS – Trevor Thomas 1-6-0 -3 yards, Colten Rosenberger 2-5-0 54 yards 1 TD. RUSHING: NMHS – Ricky Newbrough 16-102 3 TD, Kaden Pavalok 7-27, Gunner Murphy 3-10, Tariq Miller 2-34, Gavan Lemley 4-(-6), Jahkari Mesidor 1-(-3), Hunter Kuhn 5-6, Brody Hall 1-10, Team 1-(-2); PHS – Jesse Gribble 16-33 1 TD, Colten Rosenberger 7-37, Ayden Bishoff 5-10, JJ Townsend 1-2, Trevor Thomas 5-(-32). RECEIVING: NMHS – Jahkari Mesidor 4-133 1 TD, Tariq Miller 1-8, Garrett Conaway 1-16, Tyler Thorne 1-0, Ethan Raines 3-42, Ethan Mays 1-13, Adam Hoffman 1-15 1 TD; PHS – Jaxon Lewis 1-48 1 TD, Jesse Gribble 2-3.