Marauders complete season journey, win first-ever football state title

The Mt. Vernon Marauders celebrate their first-ever football state championship after beating Northridge, 45-14, in the IHSAA Class 4A state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 (Rich Torres/Daily Reporter)

INDIANAPOLIS — Their journey is over, and it ended in victory formation.

On Saturday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium, the Class 4A Mt. Vernon Marauders went from a football team that few believed could into the best group ever assembled in Fortville.

The Marauders scored six offensive touchdowns, added a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior Ashden Gentry, and built a 35-point lead for an 11th time this season to beat Northridge, 45-14, during the IHSAA 4A state championship game in Indianapolis.

As the state’s top-scoring offense, the Marauder (14-1) upheld their reputation and generated 381 yards behind 50 plays, while the defense stymied the Raiders (10-5) in the second half to capture the program’s first-ever football state title.

Mt. Vernon’s first state finals appearance in program history and decisive championship victory capped a 14-game winning streak that began on Aug. 27 and concluded with a 44th win through four seasons for the senior class.

“It’s amazing to finally say, we won, and now, we’re going to celebrate forever,” Mt. Vernon senior quarterback Gehrig Slunaker said. “We get to hold on to this for the rest of our lives. No one can ever take this away from us.”

The Mt. Vernon Marauders won their 14th straight game by defeating Northridge, 45-14, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to claim the IHSAA Class 4A football state title on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (Rich Torres/Daily Reporter)

Slunaker was named the IHSAA’s Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award recipient in Class 4A football and finished the state championship game with 235 yards passing and three touchdowns.

Five different Marauders recorded offensive touchdowns against the Raiders with senior running back Keagan La Belle accounting for 76 yards on 11 carries and a pair of rushing scores, including the game’s first.

On their first offensive series, the Marauders marched 55 yards on six plays in 2 minutes, 23 seconds to take a 6-0 lead as La Belle broke free for a 24-yard rushing touchdown.

From there, the Marauders never trailed, building a 20-0 lead following Gentry’s interception return on third-and-7 from Mt. Vernon’s 46 midway through the second quarter.

The Marauders defense picked off Northridge quarterback Tagg Gott twice with junior George Burhenn thieving the other early in the second quarter with Mt. Vernon ahead 14-0.

La Belle’s second rushing score highlighted a six-play drive that spanned 58 yards in 1:07 and measured 5 yards, which handed Mt. Vernon a 26-7 lead by halftime.

Slunaker connected with Burhenn for an 11-yard touchdown to increase Mt. Vernon’s advantage 14-0 late in the first quarter. The Marauders converted on two of their first three possessions.

There were some mishaps for the Marauders however, but they never wavered.

Northridge picked off Slunaker twice in the first half, and an Eli Bridenthal lost fumble on a rushing attempt late in the first quarter slowed the Marauders to 198 yards in total offense.

The Raiders, who were also making their first state finals appearance, rushed for 103 yards and passed for 53 in the first half with 11 first downs.

“They’ve been down in the tournament. They’ve been down at halftime, and we knew they had the ability to come back, and we didn’t want to let that happen to us,” Slunaker said. “We just wanted to finish it out the right way.”

The Marauders’ defense made sure of it and clamped down on Gott and the Raiders in the final 24 minutes.

In the second half, Northridge rushed for negative-11 yards and passed for 32 with only two first downs the rest of the way for 13 overall. The Raiders won the time of possession battle, 28:24 to 19:36, but five Marauders’ sacks — two by senior defensive tackle Owen Johnson — kept Northridge to 4 of 17 on third downs.

“We kept battling,” Mt. Vernon head coach Vince Lidy said. “What a testament to Gehrig and those seniors. They just kept coming back, battling, and I couldn’t be more excited for them.”

Slunaker passed for two more touchdowns in the second half, finding Bridenthal on a 44-yarder and Gentry on a 22-yard completion. 

Senior Travon Hegler pushed the lead to 45-7 with 11:30 remaining in the game before the Marauders’ starters were slowly subbed out for a majority of the fourth quarter.

Mt. Vernon converted on 3 of 4 red-zone opportunities, were 5 of 10 on third down and rushed for 167 yards on 31 carries. Slunaker completed 12 of 18 pass attempts, while Hegler finished with 77 yards on eight rushes.

Gentry had five receptions for 130 yards with his longest catch covering 43 yards. He had 274 all-purpose yards with 83 combined as a kick returner and 59 with his interception return.

Bridenthal added 75 yards on four receptions, as Mt. Vernon produced 86 yards after the catch.

“This week was an unbelievable week. It was a crazy week,” Lidy said. “I’m really proud of the kids for coming out and doing what we wanted to do at a high level.”

Coach Lidy became only the fifth first-year head coach to win a state title and is part of only the third father-son combination to win football state championships. His late father, John Lidy, led Castle to two state titles in 1982 (3A) and with his son at quarterback and linebacker in 1994 (5A).

The Marauders’ win secured coach Vince Lidy’s second state championship — one as a player and as a coach. Mt. Vernon assistant coach Toby Jacobs was a two-time 2A state champion with Indianapolis Scecina Memorial as a player in 1990 and 1991.

Both Lidy and Jacobs were on staff at Hamilton Southeastern in 2005 when the 5A Royals were state runner-ups to Warren Central.

This time, they finished the job with countless Marauders’ supporters packed into the lower bowl seating sections behind the Mt. Vernon bench.

The crowd roared proudly as the Marauders’ offensive starters retook the field for the game’s final 1:23, and Slunaker knelt the ball twice from their own 43 to end the game. 

“Our kids joke about it now, it’s their favorite formation, like their coach, I guess,” Lidy said. “It was good to see them out there, one last time, so they could come off the field and see the community supporting them. It’s just really special.”

Read Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Reporter for more coverage of Mt. Vernon’s Class 4A football state championship victory.

IHSAA Class 4A Football State Finals

Mt. Vernon 45, Northridge 14

Mt. Vernon (14-1);14;12;12;7;–;45

Northridge (10-5);0;7;0;7;–;14

MV–Keagan La Belle 24 run (kick failed), 9:37

MV — George Burhenn 11 pass from Gehrig Slunaker (2pt run), 4:35

MV–Ashden Gentry 59 INT return (kick failed), 8:06

N–Jethro Hochstetler 23 pass from Tagg Gott (Dylan Ritchie kick), 1:39

MV–La Belle 5 run (2pt failed), 0:26

MV–Eli Bridenthal 44 pass from Slunaker (kick failed), 10:29

MV–Gentry 22 pass from Slunaker (2pt failed), 2:23

MV–Travon Hegler 54 run (Ethan Yeley kick), 11:30

N–Peyton Shook 45 yd INT return (Ritchie kick), 8:38