After cruising to easy victories against five opponents having a combined record of 6-19 going into their Week 6 football game against poll-worthy Marceline, Zane Jacoby and the Westran Hornets faced their first biggest test on its regular season calendar and rose to the occasion Friday night before their home crowd.
Jacoby, a 6'3 junior quarterback who is a triple threat athlete, racked up 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns and would pass for another 76 and added another score from the air.
In addition, Jacoby came down with two of the Hornets three interceptions that were generated to go with a fumble recovery during the Lewis & Clark Conference encounter.
That kind of effort led undefeated Class 1 No. 2 ranked Westran (6-0, 2-0 LCC) to a 35-14 victory over the Marceline Tigers (3-3, 0-2 LCC).
"You cannot simply look at the final result of this score and judge Marceline or how tough this game really was. They are really good and people may not realize just how big of a win this is for us," said Westran football coach Curtis Jasper. "You can't judge (previously 8th-ranked) Marceline with their 3-3 record right now without knowing all three of their losses were to state-ranked teams. They lost to a state-ranked Class 2 team by just a few points (Brookfield), last week they lost to the fifth-ranked team in Class 1 (Salisbury) and tonight it's us who are ranked No. 2. That's a really tough stretch of opponents."
After two stalled possessions, Jacoby changed the scoreboard with 4-minutes left in the opening quarter when he faked a hand off to Jake Ingebritson, went left and made two cuts as he continued left down the Marceline sidelines running virtually untouched for a 52-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Marceline put together their strongest drive of the first half reaching the Westran 20 and facing a third-and-8 situation.
However, Tigers' junior quarterback Blake Linebaugh slipped and fell for loss yardage as he dropped back to pass on the next two snaps of the football, letting the Hornets take over on downs from its 34.
Two plays later, deja vu seemingly struck Jacoby and his offensive unit when Jacoby once again made cuts to his left and found open space to run 59 yards for another touchdown with 0:10 left. His 2-pt. conversion pass to sophomore Dylan Payton pushed Westran's lead to 14-0.
"Those two touchdowns came from a new read play we just put in this past week in practice. The line made some excellent blocks, there was good blocking down field from our receivers and things opened up for me to score on those two long touchdown runs," said Jacoby. "I am very thankful for the job that our line put in. They were really great once again, and Jake Ingebritson ran the football well too. "I give a lot of credit to Marceline. They are a really good football team who made it very tough on us to move the football. Rushing yards were hard to come by for the most part."
"This was our first big test of the season and we have a bigger one coming up next week playing at (5th-ranked) Salisbury."
In the second quarter, Westran ended up having a short field to work with toward building a 21-0 halftime lead.
A punt by Jacoby went about 54 yards as it went out of bounds to pin Marceline at its 1. The Hornets defense forced a quick 3-and-out and the Tigers' ensuing punt by Linebaugh went only 12 yards to the Marceline 21.
From here, Westran snapped the football five times before Jacoby handed the ball to Ingebritson, and the junior running back ran it from the 3. Senior placekicker Jordan Aulbur kicked his first of three PATs to end the first half of scoring.
Ingebritson finished the night rushing for 94 yards on 24 carries and he added another rushing touchdown, a 6-yard rumble past they pylons late in the third quarter.
Westran's defense stifled Marceline for the entire first half and much of the evening, switching from a 5-to-6 man line to three downed-linemen depending on the kind of offensive substitutions the Tigers were making on the field.
"For this particular game we changed up our defensive personnel in what we called our "Bear Package." We knew Marceline has the ability to go 5-wide, so (defensive) coach Scott Humphrey put together this Bear Package thinking we need to make some personnel changes when they go into this or when they run a double tight end with a flanker. When Marceline substituted certain players and went to a 5-wide, we put Austin Sears (fr. DB) onto the field for that coverage, and with the double tight end Sears came off the field and Brennen Kitchen (6'3, 305 OL) went on," explained Westran coach Jasper. "Coach Humphrey's (Bear Package) plan was brilliant. That switch in personnel really made a difference for us. This was the closest thing to a college-style football game that I've been in. This was something you just don't usually see at the high school football level especially for Class 1 size."
"I could not be more prouder of my coordinators for the effort and work they put in to prepare our kids for this game."
Marceline's offense was held to about 41 total rushing yards in the game, with Blake Belzer accounting for 37 on 10 carries. Quarterback Linebaugh threw for 158 yards completing 11 of 19 passes, and he threw three interceptions.
As good as Westran was performing prior to intermission, Marceline reminded their host that there were two quarters left to play and the Tigers came roaring out of the locker room scoring two quick TDs from its special team's play.
Jared Best of Marceline returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter and ran untouched to his right along the Westran sidelines for a 74-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff to Westran, Dalton Wright of the Hornets coughed up the football and the Tigers recovered it at the Westran 34.
However, the Bear Package continued to do its job and stopped Marceline on a fourth-and 8.
From their own 32, the Hornets put together a 13-play scoring drive that ate up 6-minutes of the clock. Ingebritson capped that effort with his 6-yard touchdown run at 4:02.
But the celebration of that score was quickly erased as Marceline's Linebaugh returned the ensuing kickoff for a jaw-breaking 85-yard touchdown, which would close out the third quarter scoring at 28-14.
"All of my coaching coordinators put together a nice game plan tonight and deserve much credit. Except for our special teams coordinator and he probably should be fired," said Jasper with a wry smile. "That person happens to be me by the way, and I did not look very good when we opened the second half. Part of my halftime speech I told our kids how important it was for us to come out and shut Marceline down right off the bat. It was important for us to put them down hard during the first 5 to 7 minutes of the second half, and in doing so it would be a deal maker towards us winning this football game, yada, yada, yada."
"Then look what happened. I really screwed things up when we let them score the opening kickoff on a big run. Next, we fumble a kickoff return, letting them recover it, but we would end up stopping them and answer with a nice offensive drive for a score. And on our next kickoff we mess that coverage up too and they run it back for another long touchdown."
Westran's final score of the game was set up from another turnover created by the defensive secondary.
With 11:01 remaining Westran junior Parker Howard stepped in front of a Linebaugh pass intended for Best but Howard managed to come down with the pick at the Hornets 29. This was Howard's second defensive turnover of the game as he also had pounced on a loose fumble.
The Hornets ran the football 10 consecutive times before Jacoby took the snap from the Marceline 23 and rolled to his left, finding Jordan Dennis open near the goal line and threw the football. Dennis leaped and would swallow the football as he fell backwards into the end zone with 5:32 left.
Nearly 4 minutes later Ingebritson fumbled the football giving Marceline short field position at the Westran 29.
The Tigers would get a first-and-goal from the 5, but Westran's defensive unit refused to be soft in its play knowing the football game was already secure. The Tigers ran the ball three times reaching the 1, and with time winding down Linebaugh handed the ball one more time to Belzer on a sweep going right.
But Landon Eagen, Ingebritson and Morgon Wallace met him at the line of scrimmage. This trio drove Belzer out of bounds, giving ball possession back to Westran and keep the score from changing.
"Letting Marceline score at the very end of the game would not have mattered much because we already had enough points to win the game, but this was all about pride for us. We were determined not to let Marceline get that football to the end zone, and we stopped them," said Westran senior lineman Landon Eagan. "With us stopping Marceline like we did when they had the ball first and goal from around the 4 or 5, this will be a boost for us as we go into our next game at Salisbury. I can' t tell you how bad I want us to go out and destroy Salisbury next week."