MUNCIE — There was little room for error. Down 19-14 with less than a minute left on the clock, the Mt. Vernon Marauders needed efficiency. They required timely athleticism in the clutch.
Quarterback Zac Montgomery and wide receiver Damari Gatewood delivered.
On fourth-and-goal from the Delta Eagles’ 7-yard line, time froze as Montgomery scrambled to allude two defenders in hot pursuit. Gatewood found space and crossed, a step in front of his man. When he turned to look for Montgomery, the junior gunslinger already called his number.
The ball floated within reach and Gatewood pulled it in, just in front of the pylon with no more than a centimeter to spare from going out of bounds.
“We battled for yards all night. These were a couple of evenly matched teams. It came down to the end and sometimes you get a guy to make a play,” Mt. Vernon head coach Doug Armstrong said. “Tonight, our quarterback and wide out made a big play.”
The 7-yard scoring strike put the Marauders up for good 20-19 and sealed their first win against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Delta (3-2, 1-2 HHC) since 2014.
Mt. Vernon improved to 2-3 on the season and 2-1 in the HHC, but it required heroics all around.
The Marauders trailed 7-0 after the first half and found little room to run against the Delta defens, mustering 17 yards on nine carries.
The Marauders squandered two huge opportunities early in the game. The first was on their initial drive, which was extended by a 15-yard face mask penalty at midfield. The call put the Marauders at Delta’s 36, but the possession stalled four plays later.
A short field provided by a botched punt late in the first quarter, gave the Marauders a first down at Delta’s 39. Mt. Vernon reached the 26, but the offense turned the ball over on downs.
Zac Montgomery racked up 110 yards passing on 11 completions in the first half, fueled by a big 38-yard completion to Barnett on second-and-10 from the Marauders 34 late in the second quarter.
The play foreshadowed the comeback. On their first possession in the second half, the Marauders marched 68 yards in 3:53, using 10 plays to tied the game on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Montgomery to Cole Van Slyke.
“The first half they had some long sustained drives, and they were bigger than us up front, so they kind of wore on us,” Armstrong said. “We did okay, but we didn’t have it enough at that point.”
A Nathan Seifert interception off of Delta quarterback Tanner Lambert began to swing the momentum and started the Marauders at their own 20, but a Montgomery interception put the Eagles closer.
Starting from Mt. Vernon’s 16, running back Charlie Spegal capped their go-ahead drive with a 2-yard rushing score, but the extra point was blocked.
Barnett played embraced the spotlight on the ensuing kickoff, slipping tackles and taking it to the house from 68-yards out. The touchdown and an extra point gave Mt. Vernon a 14-13 lead.
“Barnett had a couple of those last year,” Armstrong said. “He’s got the speed to take it home.”
Lambert and the Eagles pulled ahead 19-14 early in the fourth quarter on a quarterback keeper for 6 yards a touchdown, but once again the Eagles failed to convert as their two-point pass attempted fell short.
The Marauders instead thrived under pressure. Eric Jones bull rushed for two crucial first downs on runs of 2 yards and 6 yards on third and fourth downs on their final drive.
The defense sealed it as Delta got no closer than the Marauders 28-yard line as the clock expired.