High School Football: Marion Local wins fifth state title in six years

“To the nines” is an old English idiom that means “to perfection” or “to the the highest degree.” Both definitions aptly fit Marion Local on Friday.

Propelled by a 99-yard scoring drive in the second quarter that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Duane Luegers on fourth-and-goal, Marion Local claimed its ninth state title with a tense 21-17 win over Cuyahoga Heights in the Division VI state final at Ohio Stadium.

The Flyers are now tied for second with Moeller for most Ohio football titles. St. Ignatius leads with 11. Of the six schools in state history with seven or more state football titles, Marion Local is the only public school.

The performance added to a remarkable run for the Flyers, who are 29-1 in the playoffs with six state championship appearances and five state titles the last six seasons. Marion Local is 9-2 in state finals, all since 2000. Its 67 playoff wins ranks fourth all-time behind Newark Catholic, St. Ignatius and Coldwater.

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Friday’s 99-yard drive will join the lore.

“They were moving the ball and it started getting to the point where we were getting frustrated, because not too many teams move the ball against us like that,” Cuyahoga Heights senior linebacker Brett Lowther said. “It got tiring. We tried to make a play, but they just kept moving the ball down the field.”

Said Marion Local head coach Tim Goodwin: “In hindsight it was a lot more huge than we thought at the time. That drive was pretty big.”

The Flyers forced their will on Cuyahoga Heights with a game-defining drive that lasted 19 plays and 9:40. Marion got the ball with 1:24 to go in the first quarter. Leugers found the end zone with 3:44 left before half. The Flyers converted two fourth downs and three third downs on the drive.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Highlights of Flyers win in Division VI Championship game

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Electing to gamble on its next possession, Cuyahoga Heights was denied on fourth-and-1 from its own 34. Four plays later, Leugers raced 22 yards for another TD and 21-3 lead.

“I thought we had a good call, but turns out that was another bad decision,” Cuyahoga Heights head coach Al Martin said. “We gave them a short field and the momentum and they punched it right in. It could have been 14-3 at half if we punt the ball. Our defense has played great all year and that was a mistake by me not to trust them. We should have punted.”

Last year, in a 22-20 loss to Kirtland in the state final that stopped the Flyers then-Ohio record 24-game postseason win streak and denied them a record fifth straight state title, Marion Local lost a 13-0 halftime advantage. Finishing was the second half theme. It was accomplished. Barely.

Cuyahoga Heights, which scored a 31-yard field goal on the first possession of the game, scored on its opening drive of the second half, but managed just seven more points off two interceptions, a fumble and blocked punt.

Unlike last year, Marion Local made stops when it had to.

“Our kids are just gritty,” Goodwin said. “They are willing to keep competing. Some places things can snowball and our kids don’t let that happen.”

Leugers ended with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and also completed nine-of-15 passes for 114 yards. Running back Nate Moeller added 45 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

When asked if the victory helped quell emotions from last year’s second-half, state-final lapse, Goodwin was hesitant.

“It helps,” the coach said. “But in talking to some other coaches, sometimes the losses hurt more than the wins feel good.

“It is what it is. We’re state champs.”

The title improved the Midwest Athletic Conference to 31-11 in state finals. MAC brethren Minster (Division VII, 10 a.m.) and Coldwater (Division V, 8 p.m.) will go for state titles Saturday.