Kickoff return leads Marian
Marian's Stan Dakosty had a feeling this would be the week for a big kickoff return.
In fact, he even told his team prior to Friday's game against Panther Valley.
Turns out the longtime mentor knows what he's talking about.
John Julian took the opening kick and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown and instant momentum. The Colts carried that momentum the rest of the way and posted a 28-7 Anthracite League victory.
"We thought yesterday that we had a chance to take it all the way on the kickoff return," said Dakosty. "We made some changes up front. We have a real nice return this year. We felt very confident and I told our kids I believe we could return the opening kickoff and we did.
"Last week we had a punt blocked so we put even more emphasis on (special teams) this week ... John Julian is a great player and he made some plays for us tonight."
Julian took the deep kick and cut toward his sideline. With the benefit of a solid wall, the senior outraced the Panthers to the end zone, giving his team an early 6-0 advantage.
"I really felt like tonight we were going to do it," said Julian. "I saw the hole and I have to give credit to the return team. That really set the game up nice for us. Once we got that momentum, we just kept going."
Julian and the offense fed off that emotion. After the Colts' defense forced a punt, the visitors put together probably their best drive of the night.
Marian (5-1) moved 73 yards on seven plays to push the margin to 14-0 midway through the opening quarter. Quarterback Corey Quick ran for a 29-yard gain and also completed a pair of passes to Julian, the final one for a 15-yard score.
"We had some adrenaline still going from the kickoff," said Julian. "Going up 14-0 was really big. It was huge."
It was especially huge with the way the Colts' defense has been playing.
Having allowed an average of just 10 points and 139 yards per contest, Marian had to feel confident with the early cushion.
"Our defense has been outstanding, pure and simple," said Dakosty. "They've been outstanding since Day One ... They don't give an inch.
"We changed our philosophy this year. We went away from our base defense. We decided this summer that we were going to get athletes on the field. We were going to get people that could run balls down and make plays. We're small but quick on defense."
That defense was given a greater margin of error in the second half when the offense scored again. An incomplete pass by Panther Valley on a fake punt gave the Colts a short field to work with and they made the most of it.
Keeping the ball mostly on the ground, Dakosty's club moved 35 yards in eight plays. Anthony Agosti went the final two for a 21-0 lead.
"We were trying to make something work (on the fake punt)," said PV head coach Lon Hazlet, whose team dropped to 3-3. "Our special teams were a real mess and that's something we're going to have to improve going forward.
"We climbed back in a little bit, and then Richie (Smith) went down. That certainly took the wind out of our sail."
After that score, Hazlet's club finally got on the board. Smith broke through the line and raced 39 yards to the end zone to close the gap to 21-7.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Marian came right back. The Colts used just four plays and a little over a minute to regain their 21-point spread. Dylan Quirk bulled his way in from two yards for the score.
"I was nervous because we should have put them away in the first half," said Dakosty. "We had a lot of missed opportunities. I thought when they scored and we responded and took the ball right down the field, I thought that was it. That was a great job there."
"They're well-coached and they have good kids," said Hazlet, who lost Smith to a foot injury in the final quarter. "They run to the ball on defense and they're just fundamentally sound. We worked a ton on special teams the past couple of weeks and it took us just 16 seconds for them to be up. That was very disappointing."