Football: North Marion ends slide with 40-18 win over The Dalles
The North Marion football team entered the final game of the regular season in a strange situation, assured of finishing at the bottom of the conference standings, yet also guaranteed a berth in the play-in round this week by virtue of the team's high standing in the OSAA rankings.
Given the upcoming post season game, the Huskies had every reason to head into that contest on a high note, defeating The Dalles Riverhawks 40-18 on Friday to erase a four-game streak of losses and improve its record to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in league play.
"We're finally getting healthy, that's the key," North Marion head coach Keith Bennett said. "It's been tough for us to practice the last month with the flu bug and some of the injuries we've had, but we're finally getting healthy and hopefully at the right time."
North Marion pulled out its best game of the season at the right time, using its high-pressure defense to force the Riverhawks into turning the ball over to the tune of five interceptions, setting up the Husky offense to deliver its highest-scoring game of the year.
It was a return to form for a defensive front that allowed just six points in the first two games of the season and helped the Huskies build a 3-0 record against non-conference opponents before injuries, illness and a tough slate of conference opponents took its toll.
"It really goes to show how tough our league is," Bennett said. "Our league had the best out-of-league record than any other league in the state. We've got a lot of tough teams, and hats off to The Dalles, because they are one of them."
North Marion entered its league schedule in September ranked in the top 10 in the state, which helped the Huskies build a strong enough resume to remain a state playoff team despite suffering four straight losses leading up to its game against The Dalles.
With the team fully healthy, the Riverhawks got a taste of how potent the Huskies can be with a full roster eager to play up to its potential.
North Marion held The Dalles to just 84 yards on 61 plays, with junior Brady Hansen picking off the Riverhawks twice to lead the way. Teammates Milo Bilyeu, David Page and Johnny Page each pulled down interceptions of their own, setting up the offense to deliver the victory with impressive efficiency.
Senior Sam Garcia led the team with 212 yards of all-purpose yardage and three touchdowns overall. The bruising running back scored the first two touchdowns of the game, a three-yard plunge into the end zone in the first quarter and a 48-yard touchdown pass from Griffin Henry in the second.
But the Riverhawks responded in kind after each score, and knotted the game at 12-12 in the second quarter before the Huskies took the lead going into the half with a 22-yard pass from Henry to Hansen to make it 18-12 after two quarters.
The Dalles answered once again in the third quarter, using a 47-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 18-18. But the Husky defense kicked into gear, holding the Riverhawks scoreless for the remainder of the game as the offense went on a 22-0 run to close things out.
North Marion took its final lead on a four-yard touchdown run by Garcia to go up 26-18, and Noah Wierstra added a score of his own to end the quarter with the Huskies up 34-18.
North Marion picked off three passes in the fourth quarter, and Joe Ledesma rumbled 42 yards for the team's final score of the game, bringing the game to its 40-18 final margin.
Garcia finished with 24 carries for 164 yards and two scores, leading a North Marion rushing attack that racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground. Through the air, Henry completed 6-of-8 passes for 149 yards and a pair of scores.
North Marion turns its attention to the play-in round on Friday when the team hosts the Molalla Indians (2-6, 1-4 Special District 1).
"I'm so happy for them," Bennett said of his players' opportunity to compete for a trip to the 16-team state tournament bracket. "They've worked hard and gone through a lot of adversity, so I think they're pretty excited to take that next step and see where this team can go this year."