Big plays results in homecoming loss for Monarchs
By NICK McQUEEN
Two long drives to the red zone ended up in no points for the Thomas More Prep-Marian football team.
Three really big plays resulted in 20 for visiting Larned in the first half.
That was the difference in the Monarchs' homecoming game at Lewis Field Stadium on Friday night, a 41-8 loss to the Indians to drop TMP to 1-2, 1-1 in the Mid-Central Activities Association.
"Big play has been a challenge, but so far this year, we had done a good job of minimizing the big plays," Monarch second-year coach John Montgomery said. "They got us too many times. They were able to dial up some nice plays."
Larned (3-0, 2-0), after winless campaigns in 2010 and 2011, starts 3-0 for the second straight season under second-year coach A.B. Stokes. They got Friday's game started in a big way.
On their first play of the game, sophomore wide receiver Isiah Perez got behind the Monarch defense, and senior quarterback Easton Palmer hit him on the go route for a 73-yard score. That was big play No. 1.
"We made some plays and made a lot of big plays that helped us along," Stokes said. "We knew we were going to have to come in here in a hostile environment with TMP on their homecoming."
"They were going to play us hard, so we knew we had to make some big plays just to keep balance in the situation."
TMP, though, wasn't phased by the first one. The Monarchs played field position and drove Larned back for a safety on its next possession. After the free kick, Monarch junior quarterback Max Megaffin dialed up one of his own, hitting senior receiver Ryan Mayorga for a 52-yard score and an 8-6 lead.
Running out of the option-read offense, though, Palmer was able to bust loose a 30-yard run on Larned's next possession, and eventually take it in from 2 yards out to give Larned the lead back for good.
The Monarchs offense still produced in the first half, but couldn't muster any points, and that proved to be the tale in the end.
TMP drove down to the 15-yard line, and on second down, Megaffin was picked off on a throw to the end zone. Larned responded by driving 96 yards on six plays, 85 in the air from Palmer.
"I knew their corners really played the run aggressively, watching against Clay Center," Stokes said of TMP. "We rushed the ball pretty well last week, so I knew they would be trying to stop our running backs."
That side of TMP's defense was good, and it wasn't that the Monarchs were out of position -- aside from the first long play. The Indians just made big grabs, namely from senior Brayden Smith, who finished the game with four catches for 124 yards, including the 35-yarder to cap the drive to put Larned up 20-8 before halftime.
"Aside from their first play of the game where we just straight up got beat, there were corners running with those receivers pretty much step-for-step," Montgomery said. "There were times when we had two guys on a receiver and they went up and made the catch."
Just before half, TMP drove again to the 6-yard line, only to fall short when Megaffin attempted a jump ball in the end zone to Mayorga on fourth down.
"The message in the locker room was 'we're doing too much to ourselves,' " Montomgery said. "We have to finish drives. We can't string together six, seven, eight-plus-play drives and not finish.
"To finish those drives we have to make good decisions and make sure we're doing our 1/11th."
In the third quarter, things turned ugly. Larned scored on its first possession. Palmer hit Smith for 50 yards to set up a 24-yard scoring pass to junior Tyler Stelter.
"We figured we would just take shots, and it just worked in our favor," Stokes said. "I am run-first type of guy. I like to establish that, but they didn't give us the run.
"They were in the box and their defensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage for some time, and their linebackers filled the gaps really well."
Then back-to-back Monarch fumbles -- one by junior running back Nick Schmidt, the other on a kick return by sophomore T.J. Flax, resulted in a quick 14 points for Larned. Both were inside the Monarch 25-yard line.
"Just trying to make something happen, maybe trying to do too much," Montgomery said. "Those things are going to happen to a back. It's unfortunate it happened on back-to-back possessions, especially inside our own 25-yard line. ...That's tough for a defense to bounce back from."
For much of the fourth quarter, backups were on the field.
Palmer finished with 278 yards through the air and three touchdowns. He finished 8 of 11 with plays of 73, 12, 27, 23, 25, 50, 24 and 22 yards. He rushed for 72 yards and a score on 10 carries.
The Monarchs got 89 yards on 13 carries from Schmidt, and Megaffin had 108 yards passing and the Monarchs' lone score. Mayorga caught two passes for 87 yards.
TMP travels to Ellsworth on Friday. Larned plays host to 1-2 Ellis. Last season, Larned lost its final six games after the 3-0 start.