ANNA — Anna has made a lot of progress early in the season and hopes to take another big step in a Midwest Athletic Conference game at Marion Local.
The Rockets (3-1, 2-0 MAC) will look for their first win over Marion Local (4-0, 2-0) since 2008 on Friday in Maria Stein. The Flyers, which are the defending Division VI state champions, have outscored their first four opponents by a combined score of 188-21.
“They’re very disciplined,” Marino said of Marion Local. “They’re definitely one of the most disciplined teams we’ll see all year. We’ve made a lot of improvement and we’ve got to play better against them early. … We’re nowhere near where we want to be as a football team yet and we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to get better at.”
The Rockets have already shown tremendous growth this season.
Anna traveled to Covington for a Jamboree scrimmage on Aug. 17 and could do little to stop the Buccaneers’ rushing attack in a 19-7 loss.
The following week, St. Henry traveled to Covington and held the Buccs to under 100 yards of offense in a 22-0 win.
And though St. Henry found success running the ball at times in a MAC game at Anna last Friday, the Rockets held a two-point conversion attempt in overtime to preserve a 28-27 win.
“I think that shows we’ve improved a lot,” Marino said. “We started a lot of young kids on the team with seven or eight new starters on both sides of the ball. Guys had to grow into their roles and get a lot more comfortable, and they’ve done that. We’re hoping to continue making that progress.”
A lot of Anna’s early-season defensive problems came from not bringing down opponents on initial contact. They’ve shown marked improvement there, including in Week 3’s 42-7 win over New Bremen.
Though St. Henry’s Zach Niekamp ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns against Anna last Friday, the Rockets were able to contain him enough to stage a comeback.
“We have tackled better,” Marino said. “We didn’t tackle that well because (Niekamp) had some pretty big runs against us but we are tackling better. We’re doing better at perimeter blocking. We have some good kids running the ball and some good kids up front blocking and trying to just get better each week.”
Anna trailed St. Henry 14-0 at halftime last Friday. Marino said senior offensive lineman Isaac Dodds and junior running back Riley Huelskamp challenged their teammates in the locker room at halftime.
“It was a big deal for our kids to step up,” Marino said. “They showed leadership at halftime. We had a couple of our leaders really step up and get on some of their teammates and demand they come out there and fight (in the second half). We don’t want to bury ourselves in holes and try to do that every week. We’d like to try to come out and play better in the first half in this next game.”
Huelskamp scored three touchdowns (including an 8-yard TD run in overtime) and junior quarterback Bart Bixler scored one in the second half to help Anna’s comeback.
The duo has become a solid one-two punch to lead the Rockets’ rushing attack, which averages 228 yards per game. Huelskamp is second in the MAC behind Niekamp with 443 rushing yards while Bixler is seventh with 335 yards. Huelskamp has rushed for nine TDs while Bixler has scored three.
Marion Local has averaged 387.25 yards per game so far this season while allowing an average of 90.25 yards per game on defense.
The Flyers average 242 rushing yards and 144.5 passing yards per game. Nate Bruns has completed 39-of-65 passes for 578 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions while Nolan Habodasz has led the team’s rushing attack with 360 yards on 52 carries.
“They do a good job of doing what they do with their system and they run it well,” Marino said. “They don’t usually try to trick you — that’s not their motto. They’re going to run their stuff and try to out-execute you. That’s what we’ve got to do a better job — being more disciplined and run things correctly and making sure we do all the little things better.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.