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Giants pull away from 'Kats for NCC win

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GIANTS: JK Thomas protects the ball as he gets forced out of bounds near the 5-yard line in the Giants 45-6 win over Kokomo on Friday.
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TOUCHDOWN:Khalid Stamps extends his arm as he is brought down in the end zone during the second quarterto make the score 19-0 in Marion's 45-6 win over Kokomo on Friday.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Marion's offense had all the grace and rhythm of an elephant performing the latest dance moves Friday evening. Good thing the defensive unit was being their usual disruptive selves.

From an early safety to creating a pair of first half turnovers that led to scores, the defense was at the forefront of the Giants' 45-6 victory over Kokomo in Dick Lootens Stadium and a successful North Central Conference debut.

"It just boosts us up more when the offense's not clicking," said middle linebacker Juan-Carlos Ramirez, who made an end zone tackle for a safety. "We tell the coaches and offensive players that we got them and keep your head up because we'll stop their offense."

Marion, ranked fifth by the coaches and sixth by the Associated Press in Class 4A, bounced back from the previous week's 35-8 loss to Lawrence North and improved to 2-1, 1-0 NCC. Kokomo remained winless at 0-3, 0-1.

After Marion's initial offensive possession went nowhere, JK Thomas' 44-yard punt pinned Kokomo deep in its own territory. Two penalties sent the 'Kats back to their 5-yard line, and then Ramirez wrapped up quarterback Andres Begne in the end zone for the safety about 3 1/2 minutes into the game.

"We knew we had to come out with energy because last week we came out slow," Ramirez said. "So we just wanted to get a good start and control the game."

Marion cornerback Ty Coleman intercepted Begne at midfield on the first play of the second quarter, and the Giants capitalized with Khalid Stamps' four-yard scoring run for a 19-0 lead. The Giants would also recover two fumbles for three takeaways while they committed zero turnovers.

"We had some little ups and downs, but we actually came together and played as a team," said defensive end Brendon Martin, who had a key sack on Benge. "We feel a little pressure, but we know we got to ball out and pick up what the offense's not doing."

The Giants had a 19-0 lead on the strength of their defense and special teams. Kokomo, not wanting to kick deep to Thomas or Stamps, attempted an onside kick following the safety and the gave the Giants excellent field position at the 'Kats' 35, ultimately leading to Kyle Coryea's 24-yard field goal. 

Yet, the offense was lagging at times and had to settle for Coryea's field goal after the drive stalled at the eight-yard line. Thomas's first start at quarterback was a struggle at times, and he completed 4-of-10 passes for 35 yards and a touchdown pass to Braxstin Delgado that made it 12-0 late in the first quarter.

Other times, Thomas was bothered by Kokomo's blitzes and was bottled up more often than not, although a 27-yard run in the second quarter helped set up Stamps' score. At halftime, coach Craig Chambers went back to Keshaun Taylor at quarterback and the move seemed to perk up the offense.

"JK, it was kind of difficult for him to start at quarterback for the first time and he had to let some of the jitters go down," Chambers said. "But he kind of got it together, and then Keshaun came in and played well in the second half. We just got to clean up that first half.

"I was going to go with (Keshaun) just to see if we could get a different spark or different energy like we do with JK sometimes, and it was a good spark for us," Chambers continued. "We need to work on a smoother transition to the beginning of games and minimize turnovers. Both of them have playmaking abilities and can score at anytime, but sometimes they try to do too much instead of (taking) what the defense gives us."

Taylor wasted little time making an impact at quarterback and his 44-yard TD run concluded Marion's initial second half series and made it 26-0 less than three minutes into the quarter. Then, four minutes later, Taylor connected with Thomas on a 38-yard touchdown pass play and the Giants were in command at 32-0.

"I think this week coach Chambers wanted to give them a different look because they were used to JK being a receiver and weren't expecting me be a receiver," Taylor said. "If coach needs me to do that, I'm willing to do that.

"I felt more comfortable because the way they was playing us with a three-front blitz in the A gap so that made them play a man-to-man defense, and I've got JK and the rest of our receivers," Taylor added.

Stamps' second TD run with 2:48 left in the third quarter made it 38-0 and put the new mercy rule continuous clock rule in effect. Kokomo scored its TD with 6:27 to play on a Torian Smith 20-yard run, but then Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards and finish off the Giants scoring.

Kokomo had won 11 straight in the series before the Giants took last year's contest 46-7 and then Friday by an almost identical score.

Stamps finished with 84 net yards while Taylor had 74 and Thomas 66. Taylor was 2-of-6 passing in the second half for 51 yards and the TD.

Benge had thrown for 256 yards the week before against Plymouth but was 6-of-20 for 59 yards against the Giants with the interception. The Wildkats amassed 97 yards on the ground, led by Smith's 62 yards.

Chambers was happy the defense stepped up, especially considering the unit started the season with three returning starters.

"Usually the defense shapes up first," Chambers said, "but with the returning starters we have we should be playing better offensively at the start of the game. So that's something we have to clean up."

The Marion unbeaten football team and state champion band from 1969 was recognized at the game.

The game also marked the first time a mother, father and son were part of the same officiating crew. Holly McCammack is one of only three women to referee a varsity football game and was joined by Jayson and Duncan McCammack.

The McCammacks were kept busy, handing out a combined 20 penalties to the Giants (7-69) and 'Kats (13-113).