The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 4, 2013

West blitzes Century, but DEFENSE ROCKS

Offense has big numbers, but stout defense is big key to victories

By Chad Courrier
ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Mankato West is a threat to score on every possession, and most of the time, the Scarlets do find the end zone, averaging 49.7 points and scoring 55 or more points in four of six games this season.

But the defense is doing its part, too, as opponents have managed only 71 points, most of which have come against the reserves.

“We have a flashy offense so maybe we get overlooked sometime,” senior linebacker Isaac Weber said. “We just go with the flow. It’s not a big deal.”

The Scarlets defeated Rochester Century 49-8 in the annual homecoming game at Todnem Field. The Big Nine Conference game was called with about 7 minutes remaining because of lightning, though the clock was already in running time.

West led 42-6 at halftime, despite having only 24 offensive plays. With limited chances, the Scarlets amassed 320 yards and scored six times.

But with those fireworks, it would have been easy to overlook the defense, which held the Panthers to 107 yards, with 67 yards coming on one touchdown pass.

“We have a lot of guys with experience, and it all starts up front with our (defensive) line,” Weber said. “They do a great job and fill up the gaps so we can make the tackles.”

With poor weather forecasted, the Scarlets tried to score quickly, just in case the game was shortened.

On the first possession, the fifth play was a 9-yard pass from Ryan Schlichte to Connor Watts, and Andrew Opsal kicked the first of seven PATs to make it 7-0 after four minutes.

The next drive lasted just two plays as Cory Johnson broke through the middle and outran the Century secondary for a 64-yard touchdown run.

The lead grew to 21-0 when Travon Jones rushed 9 yards, capping a four-play drive that was set up by a fumble recovery at the 20.

Only eight minutes had elapsed, and the West offense was dealing and the defense denying.

“Every year, the defense does great,” coach Mark Esch said. “Those kids are flying all over the place. It allows us to score more points.”

The defense added to the touchdown barrage when Watts scooped a fumble and ran 31 yards for the 28-0 lead.

“It all starts with the D line,” Esch said. “Those kids are playing well, and our defensive ends are getting some experience. The linebackers are really talented. I feel like we have 11 kids out there that can play with just about anybody.”

Century’s only touchdown came in just two plays, when receiver Darryl Martin got behind the defense and completed a 67-yard scoring pass play.

But that just gave the ball back to West, which scored on a 57-yard pass from Schlichte to Will Claussen, who returned after missing last week’s game with a shoulder injury.

After another punt, Schlichte passed 82 yards to Kevin Marzolf, who was tackled at Century’s 1. Jones picked up the easy touchdown for a 42-6 lead.

At halftime, West was averaging 13.3 yards per play, while Century had the edge in time of possession.

West threatened on its first drive of the second half, which stalled at the Century 32. The next time West touched the ball, a four-play drive ended with Schlichte’s 18-yard pass to Josh Athey.

Century added a safety against West reserves, but the Panthers had just 5 yards of offense in the second half. On 29 rushes, the Panthers gained only 45 yards.

Weber led the defense with 14 tackles and one sack, and Braeden Myers had eight tackles and a sack. Athey made an interception, and Watts had one of the Scarlets’ two fumble recoveries.

“Our first goal is to get a shutout,” Weber said. “Then we want to hold (opponents) to 50 yards rushing. We’re taught to stop the run. Just read your keys and run to the ball. That’s all there is to it.”

Offensively, Schlichte completed 15 of 25 passes for 258 yards. Watts made six catches for 50 yards, and Claussen had three receptions for 81 yards. Johnson rushed for 120 yards, with 117 yards in the first half.

“I really like where we are,” Weber said. “Sure, I would have liked to beat Owatonna, but we’re right there with them. It’s all good.”

West (5-1) finishes the regular season on the road, starting with Friday’s game at Faribault. The Scarlets’ final game is Wednesday, Oct. 16 at Rochester Mayo.