As Centennial senior Pat Zarek walked off the Marriotts Ridge football field on Saturday afternoon, his white jersey was a shade of brown, every bit of exposed skin was speckled with mud, his clenched hands trembled in the bitter cold, and he wore a broad smile on his face.
"This weather is just amazing, everying was just … it couldn't have been better," said Zarek, who led the Centennial Eagles to a 26-0 win over the Mustangs. "I'm sure it must have been terrible for the fans but for us it was great … it's the best feeling ever."
Zarek caught a short pass from Tyler Morris and ran 39 yards to the Marriotts Ridge four-yard line to set up Centennial's second touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the first half. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound defensive end also terrorized the Mustangs offense for four tackles for loss in the second half.
"I couldn't feel anything," said Zarek, who hopes to play defense in college.
With temperatures in the mid-30s and a steady onslaught of cold rain, wet snowflakes and biting wind, the game was more of a battle of wills.
In the first half, Centennial rushed the ball 34 times for 127 yards, while Marriotts Ridge was able to only run 11 plays for 23 yards.
Marriotts Ridge earned its first first down with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, on a seven-yard run by Marcus Smith. It turned out to be the Mustangs only first down in the game, and they had six plays for negative yardage and two penalties in the second half.
This year has been a struggle for Marriotts Ridge, which hasn't won a game since Nov. 7 of 2008, a stretch of 29 games. But the Mustangs fought hard until the end despite the miserable conditions. Marcus Smith led the Mustangs offense with 21 rushing yards, while Alex Costley rushed for 14 yards. Duncan Campbell (9 yards), Byran Barney (6) and B.J. Durham each caught passes from quarterback Shep Stevens.
Centennial kept the game as close as it was by fumbling the ball away four times, compared to two for Marriotts Ridge.
"You're going to have turnovers and that's just a bad part, but we didn't do a whole lot differently," Centennial coach Todd Kriner said. "You're watching for turnovers and you're watching the clock."
Eventually, the Eagles were able to wear down the Mustangs defense, as senior Karon Hickman rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. He finished with a game-high 155 yards, and perhaps the only jersey dirtier than Zarek's. Sophomore Walter Fletcher ran for 57 yards and a TD, and senior Jay Warren rushed for seven yards and a score.
The win was the first of the season for Centennial, and the first ever as head coach for Kriner.
"It's a good feeling. I'm happy for my coaches and I'm happy for the kids, they stayed with it," Kriner said. "It's been a long year and you always want to get that first one."C (1-8) 0 6 6 14 - 26
MR (0-9) 0 0 0 0 – 0
C: Warren 1 run (kick failed), 11:18.
C: Fletcher 2 run (run failed), :50.