SHENANDOAH It probably wouldn't have mattered if the Marian Colts hadn't hung on for a 27-20 win here over the Snenandoah Blue Devils, but what does matter is that Coach Stan Dakosty's squad showed clearly Friday night it has gotten better.
A heavy underdog, the Colts didn't let that label hold them back as they rushed to a 12-0 lead, before watching it slip away very quickly, and then responded with 15 unanswered points to pull away from their hosts and win for the third time in eight starts.
"A tremendous win," said Dakosty after his team thwarted a last-minute Devil threat at the Colt 13 yardline with just four seconds remaining. "I can't say enough about these kids. They've practiced and practiced...worked hard, and I always felt we were a decent football team. We're excited about playing football."
That the Colts were even in the game might have been a surprise to many, but then to seize a victory was even more meaningful for the Blue and Gold. A quick two TDs gave them hope, and momentum, something they'd hang on to until the last play. While tailback Paul Martin continued his prolific running (25-110), it was QB Pat Leitzel who opened things up for the Colts, throwing a 33-yard strike to Joe Kloap on the first series of the game and then converting two third down plays on completions on the second series. Bruce Balliet scored two of his three TDs on runs of 2 and 1 yard, respectively, giving Marian a 12-0 edge with 2:58 left in the first period.
But Shenandoah stormed right back, actually taking the lead in the second quarter. The Devils went 85 yards on 10 plays, with QB Dan Merva (15-94) scoring on an eight-yard run with 7:16 left in the half to cut the Marian lead in half. Devil Colin Karahuta then picked off QB Corey Quick's only pass of the night, returning it 32 yards to the Marian 8. Four plays later, a one-yard run by Eric Whalen and a conversion by Jim Zarcufsky made ot 13-12 in favor of the hosts.
Despite surrendering the lead, the Colts responded, and it was Martin who led the charge. He has rushes of 12, 35 and 27 yards as the Colts got to the Devil 3 yardline with only six seconds left in the half. Martin followed by booting a 25-yard field goal to give Marian a 15-13 advantage, one they would never relinquish.
The next TD came with 3:03 left in the third period, when Leitzel passed down the right sideline to Eric Baker on a 58-yard TD play, making it 21-13. Balliet then recovered a fumble on the SHS 29, and seven plays later, he bulled his way into the endzone from two yards out, making it 27-13 with 10:53 left to play.
On its next possession, Marian was forced to punt. With starting punter Kloap sidelined with an injury, Baker's punt into strong winds blew backwards for a net of one yard, and the Colts fell asleep on the play, watching as an alert Merva scoopped up the pigskin and went 31 yards with it to the endzone with 8:42 left to play. Zarcufsky's PAT cut the lead to 27-20.
Shenandoah had one last possession in which to try to pull even, and after taking over at its own 46, the Devils almost pulled through. Merva initially ran for 17 yards. Two plays later, he gained 20 yards as the Devils got a first down at the Marian 13 with just four seconds left. On the last play, Baker's pickoff of Merva preserved the win.
"They (Marian) deserved to win," said losing coach Nick Sajone. "We didn't show up. Marian wanted it more. We were outcoached, outplayed, out-everythinged."
They'll try to make it three in a row next week when they host the Jim Thorpe Olympians.