By Pedro Velazco
Kokomo — A cold, rainy, windy night wasn’t ideal for anyone Friday at Walter Cross Field. Players on the sideline huddled together like penguins, traction was treacherous, and Kokomo and Marion combined to fumble a slick football three times on the first five plays, with each team giving the ball away once.
A couple hours later, the Wildkats had no complaints. Kokomo rallied from two first-half deficits to beat Marion 40-22.
Oh, and the conditions? Well, miserable is in the eye of the beholder. After recording their victory and breaking camp for the locker room, several Wildkats eyed the muddy midfield and found it too inviting to resist, doing running belly flops to celebrate victory.
“It was like an ice skating rink out there,” Kokomo coach Brett Colby said. “I don’t know how anybody ran the ball.”
The Kats (6-2, 5-1 North Central Conference) figured out how to do it. They changed their attack some to suit the conditions and rushed for 364 yards. Kokomo got 23 first downs — all on the ground as the Kats didn’t attempt a pass.
Kokomo trailed 14-6 with 1:50 left in the second quarter after Marion’s Javaris Riley scored on his second long TD run. That’s when the Kats turned the game around.
A short kickoff by Marion put the Wildkats on their own 44. Eight plays and two timeouts later, Kokomo’s Bo Baker scored from five yards on one of Kokomo’s swirling power runs to the inside to make the score 14-12 with 0:05 left before halftime.
“I was glad we scored right there at the end of the first half,” Colby said. “That was a big momentum boost for us.”
Marion (4-4, 3-3 NCC) felt the switch.
“It was huge emotionally because we went down and scored to go up 14-6, and only leave them [1:50] on the clock and they went down and scored,” Marion coach Randy Sehy said. “You don’t want to say that was huge, but momentum-wise, to end the first half, that was kind of a downer for our guys.”
After stopping Marion with a three-and-out in the first possession of the second half, Kokomo took the lead quickly. A four-play drive was finished off by an eight-yard surge to the right by Baker and the Kats led for the first time, 18-14. Kokomo then forced a fumble on the kickoff and took possession again.
This time, it took five plays for the Kats to score. Quarterback Tayler Persons ran in from 13 yards, riding the last several yards inside a pack of Giants and Wildkats as his blockers pushed the scrum over the line for a 24-14 lead.
“Them scoring, and us fumbling the ball right back to them, that just sucked the life right out of us,” Sehy said.
The Wildkats scored on their next two possessions., finding the end zone with a 12-yard run by Baker and a 13-yard run by Michael Copeland to push the lead to a commanding 40-14 with 7:31 left in the game.
Baker was particularly effective, getting loose outside to amass 144 yards on 17 carries. Copeland ran for 123 yards on 21 rushes, and Persons was involved more than usual in the ground game, running for 94 yards on 13 carries. He also had Kokomo’s first TD, a 10-yarder to knot the game at 6-all in the first quarter.
“[Marion’s defenders] were pinching and knifing so hard, and with the field conditions what they were, we couldn’t get our off-tackle plays, we couldn’t get any traction and movement,” Colby said, discussing adjustments that gave the Kats room to run. “[Instead] we just hit the edge and we were content with doing what we had to do to move the ball. They never really stopped us. We never punted.”
Kokomo rattled off five scores in a row.
“They ran the fullback [Copeland] a little more effectively in the second half after they wore our defensive line down, and kept the chains moving with him,” Sehy said. “They just do what they do, and they’re good at it.”