FORTVILLE — With the clock nearing midnight, Mt. Vernon head football coach Doug Armstrong stood at the 20-yard line and surveyed the damage.
Part of his attention fixated under his feet where the Marauders’ home field took a pounding on Friday night. Hours earlier, a severe weather system plowed through the area, delaying the game for two-plus hours due to heavy rains and lightning.
He took a minute to patch an ugly divot where a hash mark once existed, but he stopped there, in silence, as his eyes panned out farther where large pockets of mud stretched for yards.
The scoreboard still illuminating in the distance, said more than he could offer in his postgame remarks. Losing to Marion, 31-0, was difficult to absorb. The loss ended their run at five consecutive wins against the Giants and handed the Marauders their first 0-2 start since 2008.
The number on Armstrong’s mind, however, wasn’t zero. It was nine.
Through 96 minutes, the Marauders have committed nine turnovers — five this week, four the last. And each one has been costly.
“Mt. Vernon does not turn the ball over. That’s what we’re known for,” Armstrong said while peering out across the field toward the opposite end zone. “Tonight, that’s all we did.”
Last week, miscues held the Class 4A Marauders scoreless through the first half until they put it together on offense in the final 24 minutes, narrowly losing to 3A Hamilton Heights 34-27.
Against 4A Marion, the Marauders opened the game with momentum behind a 20-yard completion from quarterback Zac Montgomery to wide receiver Alex Barnett. They followed the first play up with a strong 11-yard run from Eric Jones.
From there, nothing seemed to go right.
Mt. Vernon crossed midfield five times, but those possessions resulted in two turnover on downs, a punt, an interception and a lost fumble. Overall, the Marauders turned the ball over twice on interceptions and fumbled it away three times.
“It’s definitely a problem for us, a problem that we’re really not used to. We will have to figure out a solution for it,” Armstrong said. “There we some plays we should have been smarter on.”
The Giants weren’t immune to mistakes either with field conditions worsening as play progressed late into the night. They were whistled for 11 penalties at 90-plus yards, but they proved efficient otherwise, despite two fumbles — one lost — and three turnover on downs.
Tyrell Phelps rushed for 148 yards on 18 carries. The senior speedster put the Giants ahead on their first possession from scrimmage with a 71-yard touchdown run, breaking multiple tackles en route to the end zone.
Quarterback Thomas Stone completed 10 of 16 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores went to senior Dontea Henderson, who hauled in a 13-yard strike and a 37-yard dart late in the fourth quarter to finish with 106 yards receiving.
The victory gave Marion its first 2-0 start to the season in a decade.
Meanwhile, the Marauders were limited to 90 yards rushing, 77 yards passing and nine first downs.
“They had a lot of weapons, played good defense and they’ll have a pretty successful season, I think,” Armstrong said. “(Phelps) will prepare us for the backs we will face in our conference in the next few weeks. They’re a really good, improved team.”
For the Marauders, the search for consistency continues, said Armstrong, and it starts by eliminating the controllable.
A Mt. Vernon fumbled punt return early in the third quarter, led to a short field and a prolonged Giants’ drive, capped by touchdown run from Xavier Fuller. Oddly enough, the final play materialized off a lost fumble by Phelps, which Fuller scooped up to highlight the Giants’ good fortune.
Another Marauders’ lost fumble on a pass completion from Montgomery in the fourth quarter in Giants’ territory, foreshadowed a three-play Marion scoring drive.
A roughing the kicker penalty against the Marauders during a missed field goal attempt by placekicker Sam Vermilion placed the Giants on Mt. Vernon’s 13 in the second quarter. Stone only needed one play to find Henderson to put the Giants up 14-0.
“He’s not even suppose to be going on that field goal. That gave them a touchdown. The punt fumble gave them a touchdown,” Armstrong said. “We just need to get everything moving in the right direction, physically and mentally. It’s a long season. We have to work and get better. We just need to keep fighting.”
Marion 31, Mt. Vernon 0
MV (0-2) 0 0 0 0 – 0
MHS (2-0) 7 7 10 7 – 31
MHS – Tyrell Phelps 71-yard run (Sam Vermilion kick), 9:12.
MHS – Dontea Henderson 13-yard pass from Thomas Stone (Vermilion kick), 52.2.
MHS – Xavier Fuller 11-yard run (Vermilion kick), 9:46.
MHS – Vermilion 36-yard field goal, 3.0.
MHS – Henderson 37-yard pass from Stone (Vermilion kick), 4:45.