FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon’s Gehrig Slunaker joked that the Boundary Rail was too heavy to lift.
Marauders’ Tanner Koziol talked about the emphasis of the night, and how despite being a move-in from Illinois this offseason, that beating New Palestine was the primary target on Friday night.
Senior Rylan Cole reflected and smiled with black spray paint on his socks and shoes after the Class 4A third-ranked Mt. Vernon Marauders (4-0, 2-0 HHC) finally did what he hadn’t witnessed in eight years.
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The Marauders, at last, reclaimed the Boundary Rail and the Hoosier Heritage Conference traveling helmet trophy as well while handing the visiting 5A No. 2 Dragons their first regular-season loss in 65 straight games.
“It really means the world. We’ve been putting in so much work since freshman year, and it really showed off tonight,” Cole remarked after the Marauders defeated the Dragons 35-22 at home. “I’m glad (the rail is) the color black. It feels amazing.”
The last time Cole saw the rail painted black before it turned read in 2013, the Indiana State recruit was a ball boy for the Marauders and his father, Marcus, was the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
Now, he and the 2020 Marauders are the owners of the coveted boundary trophy, though the Dragons (2-1, 1-1 HHC) refused to let their 49-straight HHC game winning streak end without a fight.
New Palestine’s Blake Austin returned the game’s opening kickoff 90 yards for a quick 7-0 lead, and he later hauled in a 60-yard pass from quarterback Lincoln Roth in the second quarter to cut the Marauders’ lead to 21-14.
But, the Marauders defense picked off Roth four times and forced two key turnover on downs while the offense did the rest to end years of frustration.
Slunaker completed 20-of-32 pass attempts for 273 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Keagan La Belle rushed for 41 yards and a score. Koziol had five receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Three of Koziol’s catches measure at 20 yards or more, but the first one was essential.
Down 7-0, the Marauders went to Koziol as Slunaker lofted a pass into the end zone, which the 6-foot-6, 205-pound tight end pulled in one-handed to tie the game.
A turnover on downs by New Palestine on fourth-and-1 on their own 40 by Razhaun Wells setup the momentum switch for Mt. Vernon, who rolled to go up 21-7 in the first half.
“I feel like we’ve somewhat closed the gap physically. We’re not there yet, but we’ve somewhat done it,” MV head coach Mike Kirschner said. “I was worried we hadn’t closed that gap mentally. They’re in your head. They’ve beaten you eight years in a row, and they’ve beaten you badly. It’s not 14-7. It’s been 64-0, and that’s in your head. These kids hadn’t experienced this, beating them, so I was worried about the mental. For the first time, I felt that we didn’t buckle. We just kept fighting.”
A 10-yard touchdown pass to Cole made the score 14-7 before the end of the first quarter, and La Belle broke free for an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7 before Austin’s 60-yard highlight score with 8:06 left in the half.
“Even coach Kirschner said, we’re going to have ups and downs in the game. We just really have to keep our heads up and keep fighting,” Cole said. “We really did not let them get to us at all. It was awesome.”
Cole had one of the Marauders’ four interceptions, including at the end of the half as New Palestine threw on fourth-and-7 from MV’s 25. Jalen Thompson tipped the pass and Cole grabbed it and ran out of the end zone and was tackled as time expired.
“I knew our defense was really going to have to step it up,” Cole said. “Our D-line really stepped up and really helped us get the win tonight.”
A Koziol 21-yard touchdown reception to open the second half increased the lead 28-14 and another turnover on downs by the Dragons put the Marauders in control.
Until, the Red Rage defense stymied the Marauders deep, which led to a safety and a 28-16 score with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
Slunaker and Koziol answered by capping a eight-play drive to push the margin to 35-16.
Austin and Roth connected for a 15-yard touchdown completion with 10:35 remaining in the game, but the score never changed once it went to 35-22.
“I just told everyone to keep their heads up and keep playing because the game just started,” La Belle said. “We knew we were in the game the whole time.”
Roth was held to 9-of-24 pass completions for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Austin had five catches for 98 yards and both scores.
The Red Rage had two fumble recoveries and an interception, but La Belle and the Marauders had the final say.
La Belle sacked Roth for a 6-yard loss as the final second winded down leading to a fourth-and-23 from the Dragons’ 7.
“I liked the way we competed. In years past, we’d get down to them and it got ugly. We got down 7-0, and they ran the kick off back on us, and we responded immediately with a touchdown of our own. We battled back,” said Kirschner, who joked he should run for Fortville mayor after the win.
“I guess there’s a rail trophy they play for, which I’m not really up on because they’ve owned it forever. Then, there’s a traveling trophy, which I’m not up on because they’ve owned that forever, so we actually get to see it for a week.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Scoreline” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Mt.Vernon 35, New Palestine 22
NP (2-1, 1-1 HHC);7;7;2;6;-;22
MV (4-0, 2-0 HHC);14;7;14;0;-;35
NP – Blake Austin 90 yd kick return (Brendan Tanksley kick), 11:47
MV – Tanner Koziol 22 yd pass from Gehrig Slunaker (AJ Swingle kick), 9:52
MV – Rylan Cole 10 yd pass from Slunaker (Swingle kick), 38.2
MV – Keagan La Belle 11 yd run (Swingle kick), 9:47
NP – Austin 60 yd pass from Lincoln Roth (Tanksley kick), 8:06
MV – Slunaker 3 yd run (Swingle kick), 8:22
NP – Safety, 4:22
MV – Koziol 6 yd pass from Slunaker (Swingle kick), 57.7
NP – Austin 15 yd pass from Roth (2pt pass failed), 10:35