MUNCY – Starting a freshman quarterback in a playoff game usually isn't a recipe for success, especially when that quarterback hasn't made a start all year.
With starter KJ Snerr on the sideline after reinjuring his shoulder last week against Tamaqua, freshman Ethan Kuczynski stepped in and led the Colts to a 34-13 win over Muncy in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"What's made this team unique is that they've been able to handle adversity all year. Guys have stepped in and made plays," said Marian coach Stan Dakosty. "We felt, looking at Ethan at practice over the last few weeks, that he gave us a little bit of an edge as far as execution; he was throwing the ball well and we felt we needed a spark in the playoffs after two losses to end the season."
Kuczynski, who hadn't attempted a pass all year prior to the game, finished with 163 yards and four touchdowns. The performance comes a week after the Colts completed two passes for 19 yards in the loss to Tamaqua.
Kuczynski was also able to spread the ball around, throwing touchdowns to four different receivers.
"His teammates rallied around him," Dakosty said. "They were protective of him and they played well. But we've had guys step in at a variety of positions throughout the course of the year and play these roles. Without them, we wouldn't be here."
Kuczynski had high praise for his teammates afterwards.
"The entire team really helped me a lot," the freshman said. "They've helped me through everything, especially tonight, and this was just a great experience."
One of Marian's senior leaders, Anthony Agosti, took pressure off Kuczynski early by capping a seven play drive with a one-yard plunge to give the Colts a 6-0 lead after their first possession of the game.
Muncy would answer on its first possession, as quarterback Anthony Barberio finished a 67-yard drive with a 10-yard scamper to tie the game 6-6.
With the score tied in what looked to be shaping up as a shootout, Kuczynski stepped up. The freshman threw his first touchdown pass of the game on the Colts' next drive, a 40-yard strike to Nico Agosti to put the Colts up 14-6.
But what Kuczynski did on Marian's next possession set the tone for the rest of the game.
On a 2nd-and-10 from the Muncy 30, the freshman looked off an Indian safety, allowing Hunter Nause to run free over the middle of the field for a 30-yard score.
"That was his third option on that pass," Dakosty said. "That shows a lot of maturity."
Trailing 20-6 at the start of the third quarter, Muncy drove 43-yards, highlighted by Dakota Nixon's three-yard score, which cut the deficit to 20-13.
But Marian would yet again have an answer, as Kuczynski fired a pass to Nick Sully for a 24-yard score, putting the Colts up 27-13 late in the third quarter.
The freshman would ice it with 3:32 left in the game with his fourth and final touchdown to senior Lukas Damian.
Defensively, Marian stifled Muncy, holding the Indians to 29 yards rushing and 192 yards of total offense while also forcing two turnovers.
"We wanted to pressure them," Dakosty said. "We made a couple of personnel adjustments at halftime and I think it worked out pretty well.
"And our kids played smart. They were in the right alignment and they took charge (on the field). We just tried to get pressure and take (Barberio) out of his rhythm."
The win sets up a showdown in the Eastern Conference final with Anthracite Football League rival Mahanoy Area, a team that defeated the Colts 40-6 in week three of the regular season.