Using an old-school approach, Marion County punctuated the new era in its football program, stuffing Charlton County for a 12-3 win Saturday in the Class A-public state championship.
Marion (14-0) overcame early jitters and an early deficit to win its first state crown, holding Charlton (9-5) to 137 total yards in a game that hinged on field position. The Eagles held Charlton without a first down in the second half.
“Once I saw that defense playing good, I knew I had that kicker,” aid Marion County coach Dave Swaney. “We were either going to kick the ball or go for it on fourth down to keep them pinned down and we were going to let that defense do the rest. I do think the second half field position was huge.”
That kicker, senior A.J. Wells, kicked a field goal and placed four punts inside the Charlton 20-yard line.
One of those provided the turning point in the game.
Rather than try a long field goal, Swaney had Wells punt from the Charlton 34-yard line midway through the third quarter with the score tied at 3.
Teammate Terrence Riley downed the ball on the Charlton 2, and two plays later Charlton quarterback Trae Harrington fumbled in the end zone. Marion’s Quantez Freeman fell on the ball but couldn’t secure it before it crossed the back line of the end zone, and the Eagles got a safety instead of a touchdown.
“Our goal was to do exactly what happened,” Wells said of the punt. “We were either going to go for the long field goal or punt and see if we could pin them. Coach asked me if I thought I could pin them and I said I think so. Let’s do it. Let’s get our defense out there. Our defense made the plays and it ended up working out.”
Said Charlton coach Rich McWhorter, “Coaches all over the state say you can beat Marion, but you can’t beat their kicker.”
It was the eighth time in 14 games Marion’s defense held an opponent to a touchdown or less.
Lorenzo Smothers rushed for 105 yards on 20 carries and caught two passes for another 31 yards, including a 22-yarder on the second play of the fourth quarter for the game’s only touchdown. He also intercepted a pass and had a 24-yard kickoff return. All of that came after he fumbled on Marion’s first offensive play.
“Football is all about adversity. I knew when I fumbled my team would pick me up. I just had to rise to the top,” said Smothers. “The defense rose to the top today. It was a defensive battle. The best defense won today and obviously the best defense is taking this championship home.”
Sophomore running back Andrew Lee rushed for 118 yards on 25 carries, but Marion kept him out of the end zone and 110 of his yards came in the first half.
Charlton drove 39 yards in nine plays to a field goal on the game’s opening possession, with freshman Thomas Johnson booting it in from 25 yards out. The drive was set up by a 50-yard return of the opening kickoff by Curtis Nixon.
Wells pulled the Eagles even on a 22-yarder with 10 seconds left in the first half, a kick made possible by a 68-yard pass from Justin Eckert to Trae Swanson.
Charlton County 3 0 0 0 – 3
Marion County 0 3 2 7 – 12
CC – Thomas Johnson 25 field goal
MC – A.J. Wells 22 field goal
MC – Safety (Charlton’s Trae Harrington fumbled out of the end zone)
MC – Lorenzo Smothers 22 pass from Justin Eckert (Wells kick)