If defense wins championships, then Friday night's match between the Molalla Indians and the North Marion Huskies was a tale of opposing juggernauts, as the hosting Indians scratched out a 22-6 victory to pick up their first win of the season.
It was a game of two teams looking to win their first game of the season after opening with a loss the week before, and in the conclusion, it was a story of missed opportunities for both the Huskies and Indians that could have taken the game in drastically different directions.
For Molalla, it was a handful of plays that prevented the Indians from turning the contest into a runaway blowout, similar to last year's 43-0 shutout over North Marion. The Indians had two touchdowns called back due to penalties, multiple offense-stalling penalties and a couple of near-miss defensive plays that could have tilted the game even more in their favor.
"Oh man, it eats at you," said junior Bradon Hibbs, who had a 47-yard touchdown reception called back due to a penalty to go along with two dropped interceptions on defense.
For North Marion, the penalty flags were just as much of an opponent as the Indians. And while the Huskies put up nearly 200 yards of offense on the ground, the Indians were able to bottle up their passing game and prevent them from stringing together long drives.
"Our offense didn't connect as well," senior Ramon Organiz said. "I think we need to go back and work on that. If we get that going, we could easily beat this team, and it would have been a good game."But in the end, what kept the game close was the strong defensive play of each team. North Marion harried Molalla quarterback Chase Jazdinski all game, accumulating eight sacks, a forced fumble and interceptions from senior Brandon Weaver and Sergio Jimenez.
The Indians had better luck on the ground, but nearly half their rushing gains came from a 46-yard touchdown run from sophomore Emmett Smyth that put the Indians up 15-0 early in the second half. In total, the Huskies held Molalla under 200 yards for the day.
"Our defense was amazing," Organiz said. "We played really hard. We came together as a team."
As good as the Huskies were on defense, the Indians were even better. Molalla held North Marion to just four completed passes for 15 yards, along with interceptions from Casey Brooks and Jeff Larsen, the first of which set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jazdinski to Hibbs in the second quarter to put the Indians on the board 6-0.
Molalla also took advantage of two fumbled snaps on fourth down to give themselves good field position, and Grant Riehle pulled came up with a safety in the third quarter to put his team up 8-0.
"I think we did really well on defense," Larsen said. "We played really well as a team, and that helped us out a lot."
"Our defense is pretty solid," Hibbs echoed. "We have a lot of returners – we have some young guys, but mostly the outside and middle are all older guys."
North Marion eventually broke through on the first play of the fourth quarter, when senior Sam Garcia took a run up the middle 36 yards to the house to make it a 15-6 game. But the Indian defense held strong through the remainder of the game, and Jazdinski put the game away for good when he connected with Brandon Palmer for a 10-yard touchdown pass with under two minutes left to bring the score to its final margin of victory.
Jazdinski finished the game 9-for-20 for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while Smyth led the team on the ground with five carries for 57 yards and a score.
The Huskies were led by Garcia, who finished with eight carries for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the loss, North Marion left the game feeling better than the week before when the team lost 56-0 to the Cottage Grove Lions.
"We're young, and we're just going to get better," head coach Doug Bilodeau said. "I think we made a big jump moving the ball a little bit. Playing some better defense, we're just going to have to get better every week – that's the goal."
On the other side of the field, the Molalla players can breathe easier now that the first win of the season is officially in the books and carry that momentum to the road next week when the Indians take on Banks (2-0), which is coming off a 55-21 victory over Stayton.
"It felt really good," Larsen said. "I think we did really well, but we have some stuff to work on."
"I think we're doing pretty good," Hibbs agreed. "We're sitting pretty nice where we're at with our defense."
North Marion (0-2) now turns its attention to the Gladstone Gladiators (0-2), who are also looking for their first victory after falling 3-0 to Astoria on Friday.
"I'm proud of my players," senior Sam Garcia said. "I think we played fine. We had a couple mistakes on defense, but that's something we could fix."