MAHOMET — Frank Dutton Field was packed and Mahomet was ready for a football game. Right before the Bulldogs began the march down onto the field for warmups, there was a fever that can’t be matched. Week 1. Game one.
The Bulldogs came out ready to roll and punched Marion right in the mouth, marching down the field thanks to good runs from Clay Hubble and a couple quick-hitters from jun-
ior quarterback Braden Finch.
But Marion’s defense held strong, and they scored two touchdowns with less than a minute left in the first half to take a commanding 20-0 halftime lead and went on to defeat M-S 34-13.
“We hung toe-to-toe with one of the best programs in the state of Illinois,” M-S coach Jon Adkins said. “Coach Martin is an awesome coach, he’s been there 18 years. Last year, they lost in the second round to the state champs. They brought a lot of those kids back. They played very well. For us to be in the game and put ourselves in a great position, I’m so proud of our kids.”
Adkins is a fighter and his competitiveness and passion has rubbed off on the roster.
Despite a 20-point hole, M-S fought back in the third quarter. Hubble rushed six times for 60 yards on one drive alone, including a patient 35-yard run that set up Finch’s five-yard touchdown plunge. That brought M-S to within 20-7.
Marion senior quarterback Lucas Will marched them right back down the field and connected with Venson Newsom on a beautiful back-shoulder 15-yard touchdown to make it 26-7.
But yet again, the Bulldogs fought back. Hubble rushed for an eight-yard touchdown, and the M-S defense finally got a stop after two big tackles by Colton Morris and Zach Travis forced a punt.
Hubble and Finch picked the Marion defense apart and M-S had a fourth-and-one at the 33-yard line.
Finch tried the quarterback sneak, but he got walled up just inches away from the first down. Originally, the referees ruled M-S had earned the first down, but there was an issue with the chain and M-S ultimately came up just a few inches short.
Marion took over and put the nail in the coffin with a 26-yard touchdown pass to junior Johnathan Tucker on fourth down with 7:03 left in the fourth quarter.
“We did so many things well in the first half, and we were so close to getting up over the hump,” Adkins said. “I tell you what, we convert that fourth down, I don’t know what happened with the chains or whatever, but if we convert that fourth down and we punch it in like I know we were going to, all of the sudden, it’s a six-point ballgame. We had them on the ropes. Man, we came out swinging. I can’t say enough good things about the way our kids fought to the end. I’m so proud of our kids.”
Hubble finished with 24 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown. Braden Finch completed 4-of-13 passes for 42 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Finch broke off a 32-yard run late in the first quarter and also had a rushing score.
“(Hubble) did that in a situation where we’re down 20 at halftime and we got to another point where we’re down big later in the game. He had those stats when we were forced to pass. Just incredible. Our offensive line did a great job all night long. When we had a couple key missed blocks on the edge but we can fix that. All of our mistakes were Game One, Week One mistakes. We can certainly come back and fix. We gotta get over the hump, and I know our kids will.”
Marion had made the playoffs 14 consecutive times, which was a good early-season test for the Bulldogs.
“The program, the history, the tradition that these guys have, the physicality, I truly believe that these guys are going to be better than any Apollo team that we face,” Adkins said. “What a great Week One matchup and test for us. Now, we have to go back to work tomorrow, review the film, correct the mistakes and get ready for Taylorville.”
M-S will play at Taylorville at 7 p.m. today. Taylorville beat Mt. Vernon 28-24 in their season opener.
Although Adkins was unable to pick up his first career win as the M-S coach, he was still incredibly impressed by the boatload of fans and the raucous student section.
“It was everything that I wanted,” Adkins said. “This community is thriving for the excitement that these kids are going to bring them. I hope our community stays behind them as they have so far because these kids are going to get better. They want to win that conference title. Yeah everybody wants instant success, everybody wants that Week 1 win, but sometimes, you can learn a lot more from a loss to help you go 8-1. We definitely are going to learn from these mistakes and come back and win the Apollo title. That’s our goal.”