By Sean McNamara
Gallery by Craig Allison
RACHEL – The second edition of the 2023 Husky Bowl took place in Rachel on Saturday, and for the second time this season, the North Marion Huskies edged out the Herbert Hoover Huskies, earning a 35-17 victory and a spot in the Class AA semifinals against Weir.
In front of its home fans at Roy Michael Field on Saturday, North Marion came out red hot, opening the contest on a five-play drive that culminated with a 27-yard TD pass from Casey Minor to Brock Martin to make the score 6-0.
On Hoover’s ensuing possession, quarterback Dane Hatfield fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Minor, who quickly led another scoring drive, this one ending with a 15-yard scoring run by Aaron Hoffman to put the home team up, 12-0, less than six minutes into the game.
Down two scores, when Herbert Hoover needed an answer, it turned to its workhorse in Hatfield.
After a misplayed kickoff pinned Herbert Hoover deep in its own territory, Hatfield broke free and raced 84 yards before being tackled inside the North Marion 5-yard line.
The big run for Hatfield set Herbert Hoover up in good position, but it would serve as his only run longer than 8 yards in the game as the junior went on to tally 22 carries for 93 yards in the contest.
Slowing down Hatfield, who carried the ball 37 times 210 yards and two touchdowns a week ago in Herbert Hoover’s win over East Fairmont, was a key piece of the NMHS game plan in the quarterfinals.
“We didn’t ask our ends to read anything,” NM coach Daran Hays explained. “Any time he meshed anything, our ends were to hit him in the chest. Make the running backs beat us.”
With the ball inside the 5, the North Marion defense tightened up, keeping Herbert Hoover out of the end zone and forcing it to settle for a 20-yard Voss Duernberger field goal to make the score 12-3.
In the second quarter, Herbert Hoover pulled closer as a fourth-down conversion near midfield and a 20-yard pass from Hatfield to Blake Fisher set up a 4-yard Hatfield TD run to make the score 12-10.
North Marion quickly responded on the following drive as Minor scored from a yard away before finding Landon Frey with a 31-yard TD pass on NMHS’s next drive to make the score 26-10 at halftime.
Coming out of the halftime locker room, the visiting Huskies from Elkview seemed poised to get right back into the game as Hatfield connected with a wide-open Bryce Grimm down the middle of the field for a 53-yard TD, making the score 26-17 just over two minutes into the third quarter.
On North Marion’s ensuing drive, Minor fumbled the ball and HHHS’s Brayden Bailey jumped on it at the NMHS 38, putting momentum firmly in the hands of the visiting team.
As it had earlier in the game, however, the North Marion defense stood tall, forcing a Herbert Hoover turnover on downs with a Dylan Higgins pass breakup on fourth down giving North Marion the ball back.
“We couldn’t get a score because of a lack of discipline,” Herbert Hoover coach Joey Fields said of that critical moment in the game. “We had three penalties on one drive and mental miscues. We liked a lot of our calls but we couldn’t go make the play. Credit to them. That’s what good teams do to you. They put you in tough environments and you have to go make a play.”
North Marion was unable to score once it regained possession and punted back to Herbert Hoover.
Now with the ball again and looking to continue the climb back into the game, Herbert Hoover’s offense went backward as consecutive sacks by North Marion’s Noah Hess forced Herbert Hoover to punt from its own end zone.
On that punt attempt, the snap was over the head of Fisher and rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety, giving North Marion a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The offensive fireworks that had taken place up to that point quieted down, with the only score in the final period coming on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Minor to Jeffery Cowger with 3:50 to play, bringing the score to 35-17, which would go on to be the final.
“I thought we played pretty well overall,” Hays said. “I thought we had a minute there where we panicked and made it interesting. I thought we were really going to come out and play our best game early on and kind of run away with it, but they had something to say about it. They’re a well-coached, good football team led by a really good player.”
Minor completed 9-of-13 passes in the game for 165 yards and three scores with Martin catching four balls for 55 yards, Frey catching two for 59 yards, Higgins catching two for 40 yards and Cowger catching one for 11 yards.
Hoffman and Minor ran for 86 and 59 yards, respectively in the game, with each finding the end zone.
For Herbert Hoover, Hatfield completed 9-of-16 passes for 102 yards and a score, as well as an interception that was picked off by Frey.
Fisher was his top target with five catches for 39 yards, while Kdan Hughes ran seven times for 29 yards.
With the loss, Herbert Hoover concludes its 2023 season with an 8-4 record.
“Our guys fought and we got here,” Fields said. “In school history, there’s only been nine teams that have won a playoff game. Thirteen have made it out of 61 years and we’re sitting with a group of seniors that are on three of those teams that have won a playoff game. I’m very, very proud of this group. They’re good football players but great boys.”
Now onto the semifinals, North Marion will take on a Weir team that it scrimmaged in the preseason, with the winner advancing to the state title game on Wheeling Island.
“We scrimmage each other every year, and then we had a common opponent in the playoffs last year with Roane County,” Hays said. “We’re glad to be here. I’m sure they are, as well. We’re going to celebrate for one day and we’re going to find out if we’re playing on a short week on Friday or we’re playing on Saturday again.”
NORTH MARION 35 HERBERT HOOVER 17
Rushing: NM: Aaron Hoffman 8-86 1 TD, Casey Minor 18-59 1 TD, Trevor Mullett 9-20, TEAM 4-(-7). Totals 39-158. HH: Dane Hatfield 22-93 1 TD, Kdan Hughes 7-29, Ethan Patrick 1-5, Blake Fisher 1-2. Totals: 31-129.
Passing: NM: Casey Minor 9-13-0 165 yards 3 TD. HH: Dane Hatfield 9-16-1 102 yards 1 TD.
Receiving: NM: Brock Martin 4-55 1 TD, Landon Frey 2-59 1 TD, Dylan Higgins 2-40, Jeffery Cowger 1-11 1 TD. HH: Blake Fisher 5-39, Jaylen Symns 3-10, Bryce Grimm 1-53 1 TD.
NM – Brock Martin 27-yard pass from Casey Minor (PAT failed)
NM – Aaron Hoffman 15-yard run (PAT failed)
HH – Voss Duernberger 20-yard field goal
HH – Dane Hatfield 4-yard run (Duernberger kick)
NM – Casey Minor 1-yard run (Brady Anderson kick)
NM – Landon Frey 31-yard pass from Minor (Anderson kick)
HH – Bryce Grimm 53-yard pass from Hatfield (Duernberger kick)
NM – Punt snap out of end zone, safety
NM – Jeffery Cowger 11-yard pass from Minor (Anderson kick)