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Giants football team makes NCC debut against 'Kats

GIANTS: Marion coach Craig Chambers talks to some of the Giants during a timeoutduring their 35-8 loss on Friday at Lawrence North. Marion will host Kokomo today at 7 p.m. to start North Central Conference play.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Marion gained a lot of momentum last year when the Giants ended an 11-year losing streak on the gridiron to arch rival Kokomo.

Now the Giants don’t want to breathe any life into a Wildkats team that enters Dick Lootens Stadium this evening with an 0-2 record. At the same time, Marion hopes to rebound after a tough loss and begin the North Central Conference season with a win.

Central Indiana Conference play begins as well at three schools in Grant County and includes the first intra-county matchup with Madison-Grant at Eastbrook. Kickoff is 7 p.m. for all games. 

Giants’ coach Craig Chambers said Kokomo’s record belies its ability and recalled how the ‘Kats came to Marion’s home two years ago at 1-1 and posted a 17-14 victory, their 11th-straight over the Giants. If also helped propel Kokomo to the Class 5A state finals.

“(Kokomo) is a very impressive team,” Chambers said. “The film shows they have spurts where if they can put it together and they could make it a very tough ballgame for us.

“The last couple years all it took was that one game where their season completely turned around,” he continued. “It’s our job to make sure we’re not that game they turn it around.”

Kokomo opened with a 63-13 loss to 5A top-ranked New Palestine and then lost 41-20 at Plymouth. Marion is coming off a 35-8 loss at 6A No. 8 Lawrence North where turnovers cost the Giants three scoring chances inside the opponents’ 25-yard line.

The loss dropped Marion out of the 4A No. 1 ranking to fifth by IFCA and sixth according to the AP. The Giants now turn their full attention to Kokomo, a team they dominated 46-7 last year.

For the second straight week the Giants face a mobile quarterback in Kokomo’s Andres Benge, who also is a prolific passer. Benge is coming off a 256-yard, two touchdown performance against Plymouth but was intercepted three times.

“(Benge’s) pretty explosive on film and throws the ball well and definitely knows what he’s looking at,” Chambers said. “I think our secondary has got a little better and it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Kokomo has struggled on the ground with 25 yards in two games and average minus-0.7 yards an attempt. Noa Wainscott has been the go-to receiver with 220 yards and three of the four TDs Benge has thrown.

Chambers turned to JK Thomas to quarterback the Giants during the Lawrence North game, and the senior now gets the start against Kokomo. Keshaun Taylor had started both the 35-19 win over Eastbrook and the loss to Lawrence North but has been shifted to the slot.

“(Thomas) played solid last week and we’ve been practicing both,” Chambers said. “But I’ve been giving him the starters reps this week to try to make sure we get all the looks we can. (Keshaun) can make catches and plays tough.” 

Here is a brief look at the other games:

Elwood (0-2) at Mississinewa (2-0)

The Indians have been all about the Campbell brothers in the early going, but coach Curt Funk has been making efforts to diversify the offense. Against New Haven, junior Tai McClung carried the ball nine times for 29 yards and quarterbacks Ethan Bennett and Kyler Funk combined for 4-of-7 passing for 43 yards. 

Cade Campbell (321 yards) and Carson Campbell (184) have done the bulk of the work, though, and Carson also has been a defensive catalyst with two pass interceptions – including a pick-six. The Indians have moved up to fourth and fifth in the IFCA and Associated Press polls this week following the 31-13 victory over New Haven.

Elwood has been outscored by a 28.5 to 12 margin through two games. Junior quarterback Benjamin DeLong is the primary offense threat and has thrown for 117 yards, but the rushing attack has netted 15 yards in 15 attempts.

Last year, Ole Miss rolled past Elwood 62-7, but the overall series since 1984 is almost even with the Indians holding a slight 20-18 advantage.

Madison-Grant (0-2) at Eastbrook (0-2)

An Eastbrook team hasn’t started 0-3 in more than 25 years and the last time the Panthers started with two losses in 2013 they ended up with a 7-3 record. Yet, the sting of a 44-7 loss at Delta still lingers entering their home opener and Central Indiana Conference debut.

The Argylls also are 0-2 and allowed an average of 30.5 points in the losses to Tipton and Eastern. The offense has shown more signs of life than a year ago, averaging 15.0 points and racked up 24 points in the second half against Eastern with Randall Fultz rushing for two TDs and Seth Lugar one. Fultz finished with 74 and Lugar 61 on the ground, while quarterback Jack Thompson passed for 52 yards.

Wyatt Stephenson leads Eastbrook with 120 rushing yards, but quarterback Dylan Bragg has yet to find a rhythm and completed just 1-of-11 passes for 14 yards in two games. 

Eastbrook has won four straight against Madison-Grant, including 61-0 last year, and has a 22-4 advantage in the series over the past 35 yards. The Panthers fell to 10th in the coaches Class 2A ratings and 15th in the AP poll following losses to 4A state-ranked teams (Marion and Delta).

Blackford (1-1) at Oak Hill (0-2)

The Golden Eagles must find a way to slow down Blackford’s wing-T rushing attack that has averaged 252 yards and 32.5 points in two games. After opening with a 37-28 loss to Class A fifth-ranked Monroe Central, the Bruins rebounded with a 37-7 victory over Southern Wells.

Isaac Justice leads Blackford with 160 rushing yards and is one of four primary ballcarriers.

Quarterback Caleb Meely has passed just 11 times, completing three for 69 yards and a TD.

Oak Hill has been more effective through the air with quarterback Clayton McCorkle 14-of-42 for 184 yards and one TD. The run has netted 46 yards in two games and the Eagles average just 1.0 yard per attempt. Blake Fox has 54 net rushing yards, while Kian Hite has been a big play receiver with two receptions for 89 yards (44.5 average).

Blackford has won the previous two games including 34-21 last year, but Oak Hill has a 10-3 lead in the series since joining the CIC.