FORTVILLE — Coming off a lopsided win a week ago over rival New Palestine, there was potential for a letdown on Friday night for the Class 4A No. 8 Mt. Vernon Marauders.
Seniors Gehrig Slunaker and Ashden Gentry put that threat to rest in the game’s first 20 seconds against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Delta.
Slunaker lofted the ball to Gentry, who sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown — his first of two TD receptions — and the Marauders scored on seven of their first eight possessions to rout the visiting Eagles, 56-31.
“We like to start it off with a spark. That’s props to coach (Toby) Jacobs. He likes to start it off that way,” Gentry said. “(Slunaker) connected and I did the rest.”
The Marauders (4-1, 3-0 HHC) never trailed after their initial possession that opened the game, and they made a statement in their quest for a repeat HHC title.
Delta (3-2, 0-2 HHC) was held to 10 points in the first half, five first downs and lost three fumbles as the Marauders won their third consecutive conference game and fourth straight with an IHSAA mercy-rule, running clock.
“We definitely want to be No. 1 in the conference, knowing we want to repeat from last year,” Gentry said. “Our defense has to be better, though, including me. I actually gave up a touchdown, so we have to get better every day.”
While not quite perfect, the defense was active, led by senior Owen Johnson, who record three sacks, while Darren Smith and George Burhenn hauled in to fumble recoveries.
Burhenn added an 24-yard rushing touchdown — one of five for the Marauders — and senior running back Keagan La Belle rushed for 95 yards and a 48-yard touchdown run.
La Belle capped the Marauders’ onslaught with a 90-yard kick-return touchdown late in the third quarter that put Mt. Vernon ahead 56-17.
“We beat New Pal last week, so we felt that a lot of people thought we were going to be on our high horse and we weren’t going to come out,” Burhenn said. “I think we did well and really proved we could do it.”
Last week, the Marauders rolled past New Palestine, 49-10, behind 167 yards rushing and 204 yards passing.
Against Delta, Mt. Vernon kept to the trend going, averaging 4.57 yards per carry on 28 rushing attempts for 128 yards. Slunaker completed 7 of 9 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns — both to Gentry.
Gentry’s second score covered 59 yards, once again, on one play, on first-and-10, from Mt. Vernon’s 41 that locked in a running clock with 37.4 seconds left before halftime. The play only took 11 seconds.
Gentry finished with two receptions for 139 yards. Six different receivers accounted for at least one catch.
“Our M.O. is, if anything, we want to attack people. We want to be aggressive. We had a chance to take the ball and we got a score right off the bat on one play, which is becoming our M.O. as well,” Mt. Vernon head coach Vince Lidy said.
“My goal was to be up 16-0. I wanted to jump on them to put them behind the eight ball. So, we came out aggressive.”
Delta tried to keep pace, and the Eagles cut the deficit 8-3 in the first quarter with a 27-yard field goal by Zion Griffis.
Down 28-3, Delta quarterback Kaiden Bond connected with Parker Faletic for a 12-yard score to cap a nine-play drive early in the second quarter that made it 28-10.
Following a punt by Mt. Vernon, its only one of the game, with 7:58 left in the first half, the Marauders’ defense took hold.
Burhenn recovered a punt on Delta’s next possession, and Johnson had two sacks on the Eagles’ next offensive series.
“The first drive was really important to us because we had around three tackles for a loss, and I felt like that kept us going,” Johnson said. “That last game against New Pal, we kind of figured ourselves out and really started getting a lot of sacks. That’s where we need to be the rest of the season.”
Slunaker rushed for two touchdowns, Travon Hegler added an 8-yard rushing TD as the Marauders posted 12 rushing first downs and 18 overall.
Burhenn’s touchdown run came off an end-around play that increased the lead to 22-3 with 2:36 remaining in the first quarter. Mt. Vernon scored 28 points in the first and 21 more in the second quarter.
“As we keep going, it gets more comfortable. It feels like we’ve been doing it our whole lives,” Burhenn said.
The Marauders’ defense limited the Eagles to 96 yards passing and 138 yards rushing with a majority of those coming in the second half. Nolan Carpenter rushed for a team-high 61 yards and a 1-yard TD.
Abram Stitt tallied 30 yards on four carries with a 2-yard touchdown run, while Bond completed 8 of 19 passes and a touchdown conversion to Faletic.
“We wanted their sophomore quarterback to throw. We were going to challenge him to make throws,” Lidy said. “We didn’t a very good job on the perimeter, but again, it’s hard to get pressure because they pack everybody in. They had run the ball as team for over 1,000 yards, so I knew I wanted them to do what they didn’t want to do.”
Delta had four fumbles, losing three, including one on a kick return that ended the first half.
Mt. Vernon scored on three one-play drives and had five series resulting in touchdowns that required five plays or less.
“When we put our guys in space, the speed comes outs. We have some good speed, and our skilled guys are our strength,” Lidy said. “Getting the ball in space is what we like to do and be aggressive in every aspect.”
Up next, the Marauders host HHC rival Pendleton Heights (3-2, 1-2 HHC) on homecoming night.
“It’s turned into a rivalry the past few games, so we just want to keep beating them like we have the past few years,” Gentry said.
Mt. Vernon 56, Delta 31
DELTA (3-2, 0-2 HHC);3;7;7;14;—;31
MT. VERNON (4-1, 3-0 HHC);28;21;7;0;—;56
MV—Ashden Gentry 80 pass from Gehrig Slunaker (2pt good), 11:40
D—Zion Griffis 27 field goal, 8:08
MV—Slunaker 1 run (Slunaker kick), 5:08
MV—George Burhenn 24 run (Ethan Yeley kick), 2:36
MV—Slunaker 3 run (kick failed), 15.1
D—Parker Faletic 12 pass from Kaiden Bond (Griffis kick), 9:47
MV—Keagan La Belle 48 run (Yeley kick), 4:44
MV—Travon Hagler 8 run (Yeley kick), 2:47
MV—Gentry 59 pass from Slunaker (Yeley kick), 26.6
D—Nolan Carpenter 1 run (Griffis kick), 3:11
MV—La Belle 90 kick return (Yeley kick), 2:58
D—Abram Stitt 2 run (Griffis kick), 9:12
D—Faletic 75 INT return (Griffis kick), 2:45