College football: MC gets 1st win, halts slide

Marietta College chalked up its first win of the season, and in the process erased a 17-game losing streak.

The Pioneers scored 22 unanswered fourth-quarter points to break open a close game as they defeated winless Wilmington College, 50-22, in Ohio Athletic Conference football action at Don Drumm Stadium Saturday.

MC’s triumph also avenged last year’s 13-12 setback to the Quakers, and was Andy Waddle’s first as Pioneer head coach.

The Pioneers (1-6, 1-5) entered the final quarter clinging to a 28-22 advantage but a 10-play, 70-yard drive capped by a one-yard scoring run from freshman Roger Bush followed by a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown by Cody Rice broke the game wide open and gave Marietta College its first gridiron win since November 5, 2011 (vs. Otterbein).

“We told our guys before the game that no matter what happened we had to believe and we had to continue to fight hard,” said Waddle of the Pioneers, who had played and lost to three nationally-ranked teams in the past four weeks. “We knew we had a chance to win this game and some other games if we can believe in ourselves and the guys believed today.”

The Pioneers weren’t the only team coming into the game overdue for a victory as the Stacy Hairston-coached Quakers (0-7) were also winless.

Wilmington jumped on the board first as it drove 59 yards on five plays with quarterback Brandon Arehart connecting with Matt Stooksberry on a six-yard touchdown pass.

The extra point attempt failed and WC had a 6-0 lead with 6:58 left to play in the first quarter.

The Pioneers inability to establish a running game over the past few seasons has been one of the main reasons for the long losing streak but against Wilmington they consistently were able to move the ball on the ground.

Marietta answered Wilmington’s scoring drive with back-to-back scoring drives of 76 yards on 12 plays and 86 yards on 14 plays with running backs Tim Conner and Roger Bush each reaching the end zone on carries of 12 and 2 yards, respectively, to give the Pioneers a 14-6 advantage.

The Pioneers ability to move the ball on the ground seemed to open up their passing game as quarterback Tom Fulton’s short pass to freshman running back Patrick Lewis turned into a 55-yard touchdown to give them by far their biggest lead of the season at 21-6.

“Running the ball is one of the strengths of this team right now. We have three backs that we feel really good about,” said Waddle, whose team amassed 231 rushing yards in the contest. “The offensive line has continued to improve as the season has gone along and when we run the ball it opens things up for our passing game.”

Wilmington took a little wind out of the Pioneer sails late in the first half when Grant Brown kicked a 32-yard field goal with just a second left on the clock to trim the lead to 21-9 at intermission.

The Quakers put together an eight play, 68-yard drive midway through the third quarter and when Zak Kruer scored on a three-yard touchdown run the Pioneer lead was reduced to just six points at 21-15.

Marietta made it a two-possession game once again as Fulton fired a touchdown strike to Tyler Anderson to push the lead back to 13 at 28-15 with four minutes to play in the third.

Wilmington wasted little time getting those points right back as Arehart connected with Jeremy Duncan on a 43-yard pass down the sideline and Brown’s extra point made it 28-22.

For most of the day the Pioneers were able to move the ball successfully against the Quaker defense, but Wilmington rose to the occasion as the game moved into the final period of play by forcing the navy blue and white to go three-and-out to take over with great field position at its own 49.

The Quakers quickly moved the ball deep into Marietta territory but it was the Pioneer defense that came up with a big stop as Keith Cherry knocked away an Arehart pass on fourth down to turn the ball back over to the Pioneers.

Once again the Pioneers were unable to move the ball and Wilmington marched the ball right back into the red zone but this time R.J. Murray defensed the pass to turn the ball back to Marietta College .

This time, the Pioneers went back to their running game as Bush accounted for 38 yards on a 70-yard scoring drive, including the final one to give the Pioneers a 36-22 lead with just under six minutes to play.

Rice put things away for good when he intercepted a tipped pass from Arehart and rambled 15-yards for a pick six to put an exclamation point on the win.

MC added one more score late in the game when Fulton dumped a short pass off to wide receiver Kirby Harris who turned it into a 16-yard insurance touchdown.

“It’s been a long time coming for us but we have just kept on working hard,” said Harris, who caught a game-high 10 passes for 119 yards. “We just had faith and it paid off for us this week.”

Fulton completed 18-of-27 passes in the game for 245 yards and the three touchdowns while Conner rushed for a team-high 84 yards on 17 carries.

Bush added 72 yards on 18 touches while fellow freshman Lewis added 61 rushing yards to go along with 66 yards receiving.

Defensively, another Pioneer freshman had a big game as defensive back Corey Hunsbarger came up with a team-high 15 tackles in the game.

Kruer led the way for the Quakers by rushing for a game-high 91 yards on 20 carries while Duncan hauled in eight passes for 126 yards.

Waddle, who was given the ceremonial ice water bath after the game by his jubilant team was quite pleased with how his team performed in all aspects of the game.

“I think we played by far our best game on special teams and our best game on offense and on defense,” said Waddle.

“When you can get those three phases working together, your going to have success as a team.”

Waddle hopes that the win will be the kind of win to get his team heading in the right direction.

“For a lot of guys on this team, this was their first victory in quite awhile,” said Waddle. “For me and a lot of our coaching staff it was our first win at Marietta and hopefully it’s just the start of a new streak.”

Marietta College will get a chance to make it two in a row on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when it hosts Baldwin Wallace on Shriners Day.