ANNA — The last undefeated teams in the Midwest Athletic Conference will face off on Friday night, and Anna is hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to knock off one of the conference’s perennial powers.
The Rockets are 5-0 for the first time since 2005 and will try to stay undefeated against Marion Local (5-0, 3-0 MAC) on Friday in Maria Stein.
Anna coach Nick Marino said it won’t be an easy task. Marion Local has won five state titles in the previous six seasons and hasn’t lost a game since Week 3 against Coldwater last year. The last time the Flyers lost to a MAC squad other than Coldwater was in 2012, when they lost by 10 points to Versailles.
“They’re very well-coached, and you can see by the way they play that they have a good culture established,” Marino said. “They’ve got big, athletic kids that can run around and hit. That’s always one of the challenges when you play them.”
Anna scored two touchdowns in the second half to beat Delphos St. John’s 21-13 last Friday. Marino said he was pleased with the team’s performance, especially on defense.
“I thought our kids fought pretty hard last week,” Marino said. “It was a very good win, especially with the kids having to fight for it throughout the game with it being real close.”
The game may have been a good tune-up for the Rockets, who have a tough slate in the second half of the season. Aside from Marion Local, St. Henry (4-1), Coldwater (3-2) and Minster (3-2) look to pose challenges.
“It’s good to grind out a tough win, since the schedule’s obviously not giving us any gimme games the second half of the season,” Marino said. “Everybody’s good. So that was a good experience for us to learn how to grind one out.”
The Flyers had to fight off a resilient Versailles last week. The Tigers pulled within three points with 3:48 left in the game, but Marion Local scored a touchdown with 47 seconds left to secure a 28-18 win. The team had allowed 21 points in its first four games.
“Obviously, we were disappointed,” Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said. “That’s the most points we’ve given up in some time, over a year. We were disappointed with our defensive effort, and we’re doing some things to try to correct some things that went wrong.”
Marion Local is led on the line by John Dirksen (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), who verbally committed to Notre Dame earlier this year. Goodwin said he’s been pleased with the line’s play, especially since all but Dirksen are newcomers.
The Flyers average 323 yards per game, with 162 on the ground and 161 through the air. Nolan Habodasz has rushed for 383 yards for the Flyers, while quarterback Nathan Bruns has thrown for 806 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They’re pretty balanced,” Marino said. “They throw the ball a little more than they usually do. That’s something we’ve had to prepare for. …They’ve got a solid offensive line, and that’s a challenge. It should be fun to see how we measure up to them up front.”
Goodwin said he’s been pleased with the playmaking ability of Marion Local’s receivers. Nick Tangeman has caught 13 passes for 253 yards, Matt Rethman has 23 receptions for 241 yards and Derek Ruhenkamp has 11 receptions for 235 yards. The three players have caught all eight of Bruns’ touchdown passes.
Anna sophomore quarterback Bart Bixler threw for 72 yards against the Blue Jays in place of starter Travis Meyer, who is still trying to recover from a knee injury sustained in Week 4.
Goodwin said he was impressed with Bixler on film and with Anna running backs Aidan Endsley and Riley Huelskamp, who are among the top rushers in the MAC. Huelskamp has rushed for 556 yards and eight touchdowns and Endsley has rushed for 469 yards and five touchdowns.
Anna’s receivers have been difficult for opponents to stop as well. Caleb Kauffman leads the MAC with 336 receiving yards on 15 receptions, while Austin Fogt is third with 281 yards on 15 catches.
Anna’s offense ranks first in the MAC in yards (401) and points (40.40) per game.
“We’re going to have to play a good game to hold them down,” Goodwin said. “We feel like it will be good matchups on both sides of the ball. They’ve got two of the better running backs in the league, and some good playmakers on the outside. They definitely present some challenges defensively.”
Kauffman scored both of Anna’s touchdowns in the second half against St. John’s, including a 27-yard run in the last minute of the game in which he ran over a defender.
“It was toward the end and we were just trying to close it out, really just trying to get a first down,” Marino said of Kauffman’s last touchdown run. “He broke a couple of tackles down the sidelines and was gone again. Those were big outstanding plays by him.
“We’ve been able to make big plays on offense, and that will be a big thing we’ll try to keep up against this tough part of our schedule.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.