After a 3-7 record in 2016, the Marion-Franklin High School football team’s players and coaches took a long look at themselves and tried to make sense of how a mighty program had fallen.
From 2004 to ’14, the Red Devils won 11 straight City League-South Division titles, making the playoffs each season.
“It was all about attitude,” Marion-Franklin coach Brian Haffele said. “We got down on ourselves when things didn’t go our way. We took stock and just simply refused to go through the misery we went through last year. It all started with the offseason commitment last winter.”
After a 26-8 win at home Sept. 1 over longtime City-North power Beechcroft, Marion-Franklin (2-0) seems to have returned to its devilish ways.
“It all starts in the weight room and in practicing 100 percent,” sophomore running back Maleek McIntosh said. “We built more of a brotherhood in the offseason, and that has paid off this year. We don’t have many guys (37), but we get along well.”
Marion-Franklin hit two big plays in the second half that broke open a defensive standoff, and McIntosh was front and center in both.
Late in the third quarter, quarterback Ke’zion Brown found McIntosh down the seam on a pass. The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder took a big hit on the catch, but bounced away and raced into the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown to break an 8-all tie and give the Red Devils a 14-8 lead.
“It was up for grabs and when I caught it, I knew the safety was coming down on me, so I instantly put my shoulder down to brace for the impact,” McIntosh said.
On the Red Devils’ next series early in the fourth quarter, McIntosh took a handoff on third-and-4 and appeared to be bottled up at the line of scrimmage. He made a jump cut, juked two tacklers and sprinted down the sideline untouched for a 77-yard touchdown run.
“Maleek’s got some talent, doesn’t he?” Haffele said, winking. “He made a couple of really big plays that put us over the top. But the big thing that made it possible was that Davion Upchurch kept pounding it inside to loosen the things up for him, and our line was blocking great.
“Beechcroft gave our passing game fits. We weren’t executing at all. We just called on our two backs, trusted in our big guys up front and tried to pound it at the them the rest of the way.”
Brown, who passed for 254 yards and five touchdowns in Marion-Franklin’s opening win over Central Crossing on Aug. 25, hit Zaire Porter on a 26-yard touchdown play in the first quarter, but the Cougars defense adjusted after that.
The Red Devils’ defense, led by Travis Geiger and Mychal Keys (two sacks), dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting Beechcroft (0-2) to 82 total yards. Shemar Samuel scored the only touchdown and added a two-point conversion after a Marion-Franklin fumble deep in its own territory.
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final BEECHCROFT
0 0 8 0 8 MARION-FRANKLIN
0 8 6 12 26