McKINNEY -- After a slow start to Friday’s non-district tilt at McKinney ISD Stadium, the Marcus football team woke up in the second half.
Led by a wide-open passing attack, the Marauders pulled away from McKinney with 10 unanswered points in the third quarter, and Marcus’ defense was suffocating all evening en route to a 27-10 win.
Senior quarterback Grant Nussmeier threw for 341 yards and three scores. Defensively, Marcus was solid, holding the Lion offense to 149 yards through three quarters.
“McKinney has, I think, the best defensive front that we are going to play all season long,” Nussmeier said. “They came to play. Once we got to halftime though, we made some adjustments and figured out how to attack.”
Attack, they did.
Marcus jumped out to a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter thanks to a 20-yard touchdown strike from Nussmeier to junior Connor Vaughn. The score came one play after a touchdown pass from Nussmeier to junior Dallas Dudley was called back due to offsetting penalties. The Marcus defense and special teams played a role in the pivotal score, after senior punter Christian Espinoza pinned the Lions at their own 1-yard line. The Marauders then forced a McKinney punt from the 2-yard line, giving Marcus the ball at the Lion 30-yard line.
“We had a slow start, which is different for us,” Nussmeier said. “I think last week we had 21 points by halftime. Hats off to McKinney - they played a great game. I think I heard Patrick Mahomes say that every week he sees something on film he’s never seen before. I think we can be like that for a lot of teams this year - we have so many talented skill guys that we can throw a lot of different looks around.”
The Lions put together a 14-play drive leading into the break, but the Marcus defense stopped junior running back Jeffrey Pearson on the 1-yard line with one second left on the clock. Lions head coach Marcus Shavers used a timeout and settled for a field goal, putting McKinney on the board and making the score 10-3 at halftime.
“It was frustrating to not get the touchdown there, but I thought we needed points and a little momentum heading into the break,” Shavers said. “Against a team like Marcus, you have to score, though. We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had. I think it took us a whole quarter to get a first down. We’ve got to figure out a way to generate some more offense - we’ve got good skill players and our offensive line is fighting like hell.”
Emmerick Dopona led Marcus with two tackles for loss, and junior cornerback Zach Morris intercepted Lions junior quarterback Sampson Nazarko late in the third quarter. Morris also fell on a McKinney fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Besides the one interception, Nazarko was solid all evening, to the tune of 182 yards and a touchdown pass. But Marcus’ defensive line dominated the trenches, and the Lions struggled to run the ball; McKinney backs finished the game with 103 yards and no touchdowns spread over seven ball carriers.
“We’ve got to be a football team that, when we come out on the field, we have to generate more offense,” Shaver said. “It was disappointing not to be able to do that today.”
The Lions executed a successful fake punt with six minutes remaining in the contest via direct snap to senior running back R.J. Carver. The back gained 15 yards on the play, and two plays later, Nazarko found senior Jaxon Harris for a deep pass that went to the Marcus 1-yard line. Nazarko then hit Omari Walker in the back of the endzone for McKinney’s lone touchdown of the evening.
McKinney faces Skyline next Thursday as non-district play continues. Marcus, also slated for a Thursday tilt next week, travels to Keller Central.