By JEFFREY ZUPANIC | ALLIANCE REVIEW
Marlington's performance against Crestwood could have been described with one word.
The Dukes came out and hit the Red Devils in all three phases of the game. The offensive line blocked. The defense tackled. The special teams flexed their muscles with a blocked PAT. Even the chest bumps, high fives and helmet smashes were loud sounding at Marlington Stadium Friday night.
All in all, it's the type of play that head coach Ed Miley wants to see this season.
"We were physical tonight, very physical, and that (Crestwood) is a physical football team," said Miley.
The Dukes can't rest on their laurels too much after the 28-6 win because there's still room for improvement. But they looked a whole lot better than they did during a 35-14 season-opening loss to Poland.
"I've always said you make your biggest steps from Week 1 to Week 2," Miley said. "We didn't play a clean game, but when you play hard and physical like we did, you can overcome those mistakes."
For the second week in a row, Marlington looked golden in the early going after taking a 7-0 lead on its first possession. The Dukes marched 63 yards in just eight plays capped by a 14-yard touchdown run from Adam Blake with 7:31 left in the first. The TD came on the heels of a tone-setting defensive stand that forced Crestwood into a three-and-out to open the game.
The Red Devils fared better on their second possession despite shooting themselves in the foot several times. Crestwood started the drive with a false start, but erased the mistake on the next play with a 38-yard completion from quarterback Gabe Surgeon to Eric Harris that moved the ball to the Dukes' 40. Later in the drive, the Red Devils were flagged for holding on a second-and-1 but overcame that penalty after a 7-yard run by Kenny Jackson on third-and-5.
That moved the Red Devils (1-1) into the red zone, and the rest of the drive was all Jackson.
The senior running back had runs of 3, 2, 10 and 2 yards in succession to end the drive with a touchdown. The PAT was blocked after a substitution infraction forced a re-kick from the 8-yard line instead of the 3-yard line, and Marlington led 7-6 with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
Marlington looked like it took a two-touchdown lead after a superb 40-yard run by quarterback Shawn Kirk, but the score was wiped out due to a holding penalty. Three plays later, the Dukes punted and pinned the Red Devils at their own 2-yard line. Crestwood put together an impressive drive to the Marlington 26 before Surgeon was sacked by Steven Masters for a 13-yard loss on fourth down. Earlier on the drive, the Dukes recovered a fumble on a catch-and-lateral but the turnover was taken away due to a roughing the passer penalty.
The Dukes (1-1) weren't as fortunate to have their turnover taken away after fumbling inside the Red Devils' 20. The fumble was the third of the season in the red zone for Marlington.
"We still made some mistakes, and we will continue to work on that," said Miley.
Both teams turned the ball over on downs before halftime and Marlington carried a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, the Dukes' defense turned into a smothering and shellacking unit that just punished the Red Devils. At that point, any chance of Crestwood outscoring Marlington in the second half was put to bed.
In fact, the Red Devils couldn't even outscore Blake.
The senior running back added three more touchdowns in the second half on runs of 12, 5 and 17 yards, respectively, to provide all of the offense the Dukes needed. Blake's four touchdowns are the third-highest total in school history behind Jim Schumaker's six in 1960 and Dave Shanagarger (2002) and Alden Hill (2011) with five each.
"I'm proud of him, but I still have a lot of high expectations for him," said Miley.
The seventh-year head coach also expects his defense to keep getting better, and if the second half is any indication he will get his wish.
Marlington pitched a shutout over the final three quarters and dominated in the second half. They held Crestwood to just 56 yards in the third and fourth quarters. The Dukes recovered a fumble in the third and recorded four negative yardage tackles after halftime. The Red Devils finished with just 130 yards on 43 rushes.
For the game, Marlington had 10 tackles for loss led by Masters, Anthony Collins and Austin Zufall with two apiece.
Blake had 146 yards by himself. Kirk added 92 yards despite having the 40-yard touchdown and a 33-yard run to the goal line called back due to penalties.
"We were physical at the start and we were physical at the end," said Miley. "This week we played a numbers game with the defense. We gave up 35 (points), 34, 38 and 35 (to West Branch, Alliance and Poland during the four-game losing streak), so tonight we wanted to give them zero. We won't stop until we get there."