It’s said that offense wins games, but defense wins championships.
And it’s an old adage that ran true-to form in the Sectional 20 championship game at Dick Lootens Stadium on Friday night.
The defense set the tone, the offense found its groove after a slow start, and the Marion Giants defeated the Delta Eagles, 38-21, to win their fifth sectional title in school history and their second title in the last three seasons.
“It feels great,” Marion linemen Johnny Davis said. “It didn’t end how we wanted it to last year, and to come back, go through adversity and all the odds, and just win it all, its feels great. It’s a different feeling.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Marion quarterback Cubie Jones added. “We came a long way. It was rough at the beginning of the season, but we just kept praying. People prayed for us. We are just blessed.”
In what has been a tumultuous year, the Giants battled. They battled through a global pandemic. They went to work every day knowing that their season could end at any given moment.
And on Friday night, after all those trials and tribulations, they stood on the field together as one unit – and as Sectional 20 champions.
“Every day, we are just thankful,” Marion Head Coach James Bell said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The guys have done a great job. I’m at a loss for words. All I can say is I’m proud of these young men, I’m proud of the coaches, and it’s just good to be here at Marion High School.”
Delta, a predominantly run-heavy team, punched Marion in the mouth in the early going. Their first two runs went for 60 yards, and in just three plays, they were in the red zone.
But in what would become a trend throughout the first half, the Giants’ defense stiffened, and made plays in critical situations.
On 4th-and-4 from the Marion eight-yard line, Delta quarterback Brady Hunt rolled out to the right and fired a pass towards the end zone. However, Marion corner Ty Coleman read the play perfectly, coming up with the interception.
“They moved the ball down the field,” Marion Head Coach James Bell said. “They got some big plays on us, but we got tough down there inside the 10, and we made the plays we had to.”
In all, Delta had six drives in the first half, not including the final play they ran before the halftime horn sounded. Along with the interception, two drives ended in turnover on downs, two more ended in punts, and their final drive ended in fumble recovery for Marion’s David Jones.
“It’s a game of feeling each other out,” Bell said. “We made some adjustments on defense, we started stopping them, and we started moving the ball. Then, we continued to score. That’s what we do.”
As the Marion offense worked to find their rhythm, their defense did their part to keep the Giants in the contest. They bottled up the running lanes, they tightly covered Delta’s wide receivers, and most importantly, made key stops.
“We knew we had to stop the run, foremost, because they are an 84-percent run team, but really, it was a statement game,” Davis said. “We heard [people] say that defense is one of our weakest links, and to us, that offended us, and we knew we had to come out and execute and make a statement.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Marion was finally able to break the scoreless in the latter stages of the second, embarking on a 11-play, 59-yard drive, capping it off with a 11 yard run from Khalid Stamps.
The Giants’ defense collected another three-and-out shortly after, and it took Marion’s offense just two plays to find the end zone again. Jones found a streaking Braxstin Delgado down the middle of the field and him in stride from 57-yards out, increasing Marion’s lead to 14-0 at halftime.
“The defense pumped us up,” Jones said. “They pumped us up.”
Early in the third quarter, the Giants looked to put the game away. Stamps scored his second touchdown of the evening from 41 yards out to make it 21-0, and Jones followed with a 53-yard scamper of his own on the Giants’ ensuing possession increased their lead to 28-0 with under six-and-a-half minutes to play in the quarter.
However, the Eagles would not go away quietly, switching to a more uptempo style of offense that worked heavily in their favor. Evan Conley broke Marion’s shutout bid with a three-yard touchdown run on Delta’s next drive, and after a Giants’ three-and-out, Hunt recorded a 30-yard touchdown run to cut Marion’s advantage to 28-14.
With momentum beginning to swing in Delta’s favor, the Giants put together one of their most methodical drives of the evening, covering 55 yards and shaving nearly five minutes off the clock. Kyle Coryea would go on to nail the 34-yard field to put the Giants back up by three scores.
“We wanted to move the ball and manage the clock,” Bell said. “That’s what we do.”
Delta would go on to score one more touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but the Giants ran out the clock, adding one more Stamps touchdown, this time from 11 yards away, for a little extra insurance.
As a team, the Giants compiled 388 yards of offense. Jones finished 4-of-8 for 133 yards and a touchdown, while Stamps finished with 160 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Jones also carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards and a touchdown.
“We have taken pride the last four years in creating and developing a running style and being able to run the ball no matter who you are,” Bell said. “That’s what we try to do, and we just find different ways to do it. It paid off tonight.”
Marion will travel to Kendallville this coming Friday to take on East Noble for the regional championship, and the Giants are ready for their next challenge.
“We just have to do what we do,” Davis said. “We know that work’s not done and the mission is not done. We want state.”