The two-point conversion has been Marcus Lewis’ best friend this season.
The Marriotts Ridge head football coach has seen his team win two games this season in which two-point conversions have been crucial. Three weeks ago, the Mustangs defeated River Hill for the first time in school history after going for two in overtime.
Against Hammond on Friday, Lewis’ defense was stout on two different conversion attempts, which turned out to be the difference in the 14-12 home victory.
“We’ve got a tough, resilient group mentally,” Lewis said. “Them playing close games, and being used to playing close games, has worked out for us this year.”
Marriotts Ridge senior fullback/linebacker Zach Bedell talks Mustangs football after the team's 14-12 win over Hammond on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.
The Mustangs led 14-0 late in the third quarter, but Hammond made big plays in the final 13 minutes to get back into the game. The first two-point stop came after a long interception return for a touchdown, while the second was after the Golden Bears scored with about four minutes remaining.
“The kids made nice plays,” Lewis said. “The first one, they tried to power us, and that’s where we’re strongest. Then they tried to run that quick screen in the flat, and our defense was ready for it.”
The win improves Marriotts Ridge to 5-2 overall. The Mustangs’ only loss to a county opponent was a 14-7 defeat to Glenelg in Week One. Fullback Zach Bedell, who ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, said the Mustangs’ low-scoring, close-game formula gives the team confidence.
“It gives us an edge,” said Bedell, who is playing his first season at Marriotts Ridge after transferring from out of state. “One thing that really helps us is we’re a close family. This is my third football team in high school, and this is the closest I’ve been with a team.”
Neither team had much success on offense in the first half of the game at Marriotts Ridge High School. The Mustangs had 94 yards of offense, while Hammond (4-3) totaled 53.
The lone score in the first half was on Marriotts Ridge’s first drive of the game. Quarterback Casey Pung connected with Cole Rosenthal for a 3-yard passing touchdown to cap off a 12-play, 72-yard drive that burned more than seven minutes off the clock. Pung executed the play fake on fourth-and-goal to find a wide open Rosenthal in the end zone. The pass was the first of two Pung would attempt in the game, while Rosenthal also ran for 65 yards on eight carries.
“Their defense came up. When they start selling out on our run, we’ve got to take our shots,” Lewis said.
Marriotts Ridge then scored on its first possession of the second half to take a 14-0 lead. The nine-play, 61-yard drive featured multiple 10-plus-yard gains on outside runs by Bedell, who capped off the scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Kicker Evan Bury nailed both of his extra-point attempts, which were the difference in the win.
“This is my first year playing fullback,” Bedell said. “I haven’t had a chance to turn it up that much, because I usually run it up the middle, but I finally got those outside runs that I wanted and kicked it up. Our blockers and offensive line did a great job tonight."
The Mustangs forced Hammond to punt on its next drive and had the ball in Golden Bears territory late in the third quarter. On third-and-long, Pung’s play-action pass was intercepted and returned 80 yards for a touchdown by Khaleb Mair, who had a crucial interception in Hammond’s win over Reservoir last week.
“Khaleb read that play perfectly and jumped it," said Hammond head coach Will Bell. "The second he caught it we knew he was gone. He’s a long kid in the secondary. He’s one of our best pass defenders in our program.”
The big play gave Hammond momentum, and after forcing a Marriotts Ridge punt, the Golden Bears scored on a 12-play, 98-yard drive that started on Hammond’s own 12-yard line. Bell switched to a spread offense and opened up the passing game, which consisted of mainly wide receiver screens. One of those screens was a 58-yarder from quarterback Eric Grinwis to Tayshawn Yates, who weaved his way through to defense to spark the offense. Running back Samuel Mercedes, who totaled 60 yards on 14 carries in the game, scored from 2 yards out to bring the Bears within a two-point conversion of the win. The wide receiver screen, however, fell incomplete.
“We’re working on (having a kicker)," Bell said. "We’re trying to develop that within. We’re not comfortable there yet kicking them. We’ve gone for two all year. We’re hoping to have that ready and have a kid able to do it.”
Fullback Ryan Reeling, who splits time with Bedell at fullback and ran for 64 yards on 10 carries, sealed the victory for the Mustangs, gaining two first downs, including a 14-yard sweep on third-and-10. The Mustangs punted with nine seconds remaining, and the ball stayed in bounds and rolled dead after the clock hit zero.
Both teams are back in action next week. Hammond hosts Atholton, while Marriotts Ridge hosts Mt. Hebron.