Mills’ big plays rescue Marion
Statistically, it was one of the worst games of the season for Marion quarterback Tayler Mills.
None of mattered in the fourth quarter when Mills completed two big passes that kept drives alive and led to his two touchdown runs that were the difference in Marion’s 35-28 victory over Cole on Friday night at Cole Stadium.
“He’s a great leader, and his leadership stepped up,” Marion coach Ryne Miller said. “(Cole) had a great game plan against Tayler, but he made the plays when he needed to, and that’s what put us over the hump.”
Mills scored on runs of 13 and 9 yards that accounted for the Bulldogs’ only scores in the fourth quarter. That enabled Marion (5-1 overall, 2-0 District 15-3A-I) to come from behind and defeat Cole for the 10th time in their 11 meetings.
Mills’ 11-yard touchdown run came one play after he connected with Jacob Wallace for 19 yards on a third-and-15. The touchdown put the Bulldogs in the lead for the first time, 28-21, with 9:37 left.
Marion extended its lead to 35-21 at the 4:28 mark on Mills’ 9-yard score. Mills hit Jackson Allen for 17 yards on a fourth-and-9 two plays before that kept the drive alive.
“Those completions were huge, especially that one on fourth down,” Mills said. “These receivers and I have been working together for a very, very long time. They know what I’m going to do, and I know what they are going to do. That team chemistry has always been there with us, especially (Allen) and (Wallace). I’m really happy with this win.”
Cole (5-1, 1-1) made it 35-28 with 2:21 left when Ya’Monie Crawford passed to Malik Hatch for 28 yards.
The ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, and the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
Mills accounted for all of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns. Wallace (22 yards), Zachary Goodwin (21 yards), Jackson Allen (46 yards) caught TD passes from Mills.
Mills completed 15 of 27 passes for 207 yards. He rushed 21 times for minus-17 yards after entering the game with 630 rushing yards.
The Bulldogs did a good job of bottling up Crawford, who entered with 490 rushing yards finished with minus-12 yards on 23 carries. He was sacked five times.
He threw for 172 yards on 8-of-14 passing with three touchdowns — all to Hatch. He also rushed for a score.
“Our defense played their hearts out,” Mills said. “They are the ones who kept us in this game. Our offense didn’t always get it done, but our defense stepped up and made some big plays.”
Crawford got off to a hot start when he connected with Hatch for scores of 69 and 22 yards that put Cole up 14-0.
The 69-yard score came on the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage when Crawford hit Hatch down the middle.
Hatch’s 22-yard scoring catch at the 7:23 mark of the first quarter was set up by a 13-yard Marion punt.
The Bulldogs cut the Cougars’ lead in half on the next series when Mills connected with Allen for a 46-yard TD pass at the 4:15 mark of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs tied it at 14 when Mills found Goodwin all alone in the end zone for a 21-yard TD pass early in the second quarter. Marion recovered a fumble on a punt return two plays before.
Marion missed an opportunity to take the lead after recovering a fumble on Cole’s 5-yard-line with 5:45 left in the first half. The Bulldogs were penalized for holding and lost 6 yards on a screen and 2 yards on a fourth-down sack.
Cole forced a turnover on Marion’s next possession when Cameron O’Neal intercepted a screen pass by Mills and returned it 5 yards to the Bulldogs’ 4. That led to a 2-yard scoring run by Crawford that gave Cole a 21-14 lead with 28 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs scored on their first possession of the second half when Mills passed to Wallace for a 22-yard touchdown.