Red Raiders make big step toward playoff spot

CANTON — Just two years ago, Eithan Marino was playing goalie for the Montgomery soccer team. A difficult and tough position to play, Marino would show his athleticism making diving saves and leaping for loose balls. Though not a very physical position for a 220-pounder, Marino made it look easy at times. But now spending his afternoons at football practice and Friday nights on the football field, Marino gets to show off his athletic ability as well as his power and physical running style.

Marino rushed for a career-best 138 yards and a touchdown and helped control the line of scrimmage, helping Montgomery dominate the second half and roll to a 34-7 win over Canton in a game with big playoff implications Friday night at Canton.

Marino led a second-half charge that saw Montgomery go on 21-0 third quarter run when the Red Raiders scored three touchdowns within 128 seconds and force four third-quarter turnovers.

“Eithan had a career-game today. They didn’t have an answer for him and he was getting upset that he didn’t get into the end zone but when he finally did, it kind of put an exclamation point on the end of the night for him,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “Just with his body size and build, he’s such a tremendous athlete.”

After a scoreless first half which saw Montgomery dominate (137 totals yards to Canton’s 31, and a 6-1 first down advantage), but had nothing to show on the scoreboard, the Red Raiders made some halftime adjustments and dominated from there.

After two early third-quarter drives stalled in the red zone due to a missed field goal and a turnover on downs, the defense took over, forcing a fumble on Canton’s best drive of the game to that point, which the Montgomery offense turned into a 3-play, 46-yard drive capped by Brayden Strouse’s 5-yard run.

On the ensuing kickoff, Montgomery forced a fumble and turned that into a 3-play, 29-yard drive with Strouse improvising on 3rd-and-19 and dashing into the end zone for the 29-yard run. Then three plays later, a Chris McClintock interception again set up Montgomery in great scoring position as a play later Strouse found Hunter Budman for a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0.

In a matter of five plays, Montgomery forced three turnovers, and in a matter of seven offensive plays, Montgomery scored 21 points and had complete control in just 128 seconds of game action.

“We won everything in the first half except the scoreboard,” Bozella said. “I challenged the guys at halftime to capitalize on mistakes and to put the ball in the end zone when we were close. I just think their confidence level grew there when we were picking up those yards. Once we got the first score, they were in the driver’s seat.”

Canton cut the lead to 21-7 but Montgomery scored the game’s final 13 points on Marino’s scoring run and Jensen Drick’s 71-yard end around dagger.

While Strouse was running up the middle and through Canton defenders on his way to 138 yards on 17 carries, leading a ground attack that racked up 328 yards on 45 carries (7.3 average), the defense played an amazing game. Canton’s dangerous passing attack couldn’t get anything going and neither could the ground game. Led by new players in some new places, the defense forced six turnovers with interceptions from McClintock, Drick, Nick Pryor and Steven Prince and fumble recoveries from Prince and Drick. Canton managed just 172 total yards and had nine drives that lasted three plays or less.

“Our defense had one of the best games I can remember in my two years of coaching. Last week we coughed the ball up four times and this week it was nice to see us capitalize on turnovers,” Bozella said. “The defense set the offense up terrifically. Rhyle Strausbaugh’s a force to be reckoned with in the middle and the attitude he brings to our defense is unlike anything I’ve seen here. Trevor Kennedy was unable to play today so Chris McClintock stepped in and played a heck of a game. Nick Pryor, I’ve been waiting for him to get a pick for two years now and he’s just kicking himself for not crossing that goal line. But yeah and the fumble recoveries by the boys, it was just a true second-half effort by the boys on both sides of the ball.”