Football cruises in conference opener
Prior to this season, the Marist football team had never won their Pioneer League opening game, since it joined the conference in 2008.
On Saturday, the Red Foxes erased four years of frustration in convincing fashion.
Chuckie Looney threw four touchdowns, three of them to wide receiver Michael Rios, and Marist rolled in their conference opener, defeating Davidson 34-21 at Tenney Stadium.
"It is so critical [to win] in this conference, because of the depth of all the teams," head coach Jim Parady said. "This is the first time in four years that we are 1-0 in the league, so it is a good start for us. It feels really good."
Marist, coming off two straight losses, was certainly looking for a win to get back on track. The Wildcats, whose last trip in Poughkeepsie resulted in a 28-21 victory, were a formidable opponent going into the game.
But the Red Foxes would not be denied a victory, and the tone of the game would be set early on.
The home team struck first, with the offense orchestrating a nine play, 80-yard drive that ended when Looney found tight end Anthony Calcagni for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Jason Myers' hit the ensuing extra point and Marist led 7-0.
The Red Foxes maintained that lead into the second quarter, but Davidson found their way into the end zone four minutes in. With the Wildcats going for it on fourth and eight, the Marist defense surrendered a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff to tight end Reese Williams. Following the touchdown, Davidson lined up for the extra point, but faked the field goal and ran in for the two-point conversion to take an 8-7 lead.
"We needed to continue to execute. We were not focused at that time," senior linebacker Darius Hill said of the team's sense of urgency after Davidson's score. "We knew we had to bring it back up, continue with the task at hand, and just execute. And we did that."
Following the Davidson touchdown, both teams ran unsuccessful drives that resulted in punts. At that point, it looked like the momentum that Marist had built in the first quarter had disappeared.
But this would not be the case today, as soon, Rios would remind the Wildcats who the most dangerous deep threat on the field was.
Rios caught a beautiful 80-yard throw from Looney, a touchdown pass that served as the only play of that drive to give his team a 14-8 lead with 8:08 left in the half. Marist would never relinquish the lead.
A 16-yard run by Max Jacques extended the Marist lead to 20-8 at halftime. However, the play of the first half was the catch by Rios, something that Marist fans had not seen much of this season.
"The first three games were kind of slow, and we were not always on the same page," Rios said about his chemistry with Looney. "But this week we worked really hard at practice, talking about all the plays we would run, making sure everything was good for today."
The pair would prove not just to be good for this game. They would prove to be outstanding.
Receiving the ball at the beginning of the second half, the duo would connect just over three minutes into the third quarter, this time from 14 yards out.
Davidson would score on the next possession, cutting the Marist lead to 27-15. That score would remain into the fourth quarter, and a strong defensive performance stunted several Wildcats drives. As a unit, the defense forced five total turnovers: three fumbles and two interceptions.
"I was very impressed with our defense, particularly at the end of the game," Parady said. "They [Davidson] were putting together some good drives, and they [the defense] really shut them down."
With defense doing their part, Looney and the offense took over with 11:49 left in the game. Once again, the Looney to Rios connection proved to be too much for Davidson to handle, as the quarterback would deliver a 70-yard bomb to his receiver, giving the Red Foxes a dominant 34-15 lead.
The Wildcats did not go away easily, however, scoring quickly to make the score 34-21. Their defense then forced Looney to fumble the ball, and Davidson recovered the ball within scoring distance. But the Marist defense stood tall, and the drive ended when linebacker Paul Sakowski intercepted a Carkhuff pass at the one-yard line.
"When the defense got that stop at the goal line, that was huge. That was a situation where if they [Davidson] put that in, they are going onside kick and anything could have happened. Great play by those players there," Parady said.
With the game in their hands, Looney led the Red Foxes to two first downs to seal the victory for his team.
"We kept fighting, and we didn't really have that last year," Looney said. "If we were down late, or a team would make a comeback after we were up early, we would just figure the game was over and we wouldn't fight back. Now that we have that in us, it's been awesome."
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