Marist Fails to Outduel Morehead State, Loses First PFL Game

The Marist Red Foxes’ (3-3, 3-1) homecoming game featured a big challenge: the Morehead State Eagles (5-2, 4-0), who, like Marist, was undefeated in PFL games. The back-and-forth contest saw seven lead changes and eight total scoring plays. The Red Foxes collected their first loss to a PFL opponent this season, 27-24.

With a chance to take the lead with 8:40 left to go in the game, the Red Foxes put a drive together consisting of big plays. A pair of runs from redshirt senior running back Mekhai Johnson, a diving catch from redshirt sophomore wideout Will Downes and a hurdle from redshirt senior quarterback Austin Day on a scramble set up a short touchdown run from Johnson. 

The Eagles got the last chance to clinch the game with 4:34 remaining on the clock. The Red Foxes forced them into a 4th-and-10 just behind midfield but redshirt junior wide receiver Christian Graves pulled in the low pass to move the chains. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Matt Gulfoil scored the winning touchdown with 1:02 left. Marist’s attempt at a comeback stalled.

The Foxes’ inability to come up with stops on 4th down proved to be fatal. Twice in the fourth quarter, the Eagles scored touchdowns on drives after converting 4th-and-longs. Marist used different tactics on defense but it wasn’t enough to slow down Morehead State’s veteran quarterback, who secured opportunities to move the chains.

Marist had a tough task ahead of them in trying to slow down redshirt junior quarterback Mark Pappas and senior wide receiver BJ Byrd, both members of the Preseason All-PFL Team. Pappas threw for 396 yards and three touchdowns while Byrd caught 11 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“We tried to give him multiple looks against their [checkdown] game and make him force the ball into different places that he normally wouldn’t get to,” Marist head coach Jim Parady said about the game plan to slow down Pappas. 

Parady said that his defense was able to take away Pappas’ first read often, but Pappas was able to “get through his progressions well and get the ball out to his secondary receivers…You never really shut him down completely. You just gotta try to slow him down.”

The Foxes tried to neutralize the threat of Pappas’ arm by only sending three rushers, opting to cover a larger portion of the field. But Pappas was still able to locate and deliver the ball to his receivers. He was able to buy time and pick up yards with his legs, too.

On the game-opening drive, Pappas made it clear that he was a force to be reckoned with. He threw for 75 yards on the drive, which ended in senior running back Issiah Aguero rushing into the end zone from a yard out.  

Marist responded with a 32-yard scramble by Day that ended in the end zone. The redshirt senior had scrambled to convert a 3rd down earlier in the drive as well. As he himself faced pressure early in plays due to Morehead State’s edge rush and blitzes, Day had to scramble often. 

“During the week…we talked about [how] their [defensive] ends are very good at getting upfield, forcing me up through the pocket,” Day said. Parady explained that Marist was changing up its pass protection as the game progressed in order to buy Day more time in the pocket. “They’re a good up-the-field rush team,” he said. “Their defensive ends are excellent.”

Redshirt junior wide receiver Dwayne Menders did his best to help ignite the offense after halftime, when Marist was down 13-10. Right out of the gate to start the second half, he reeled in a catch in double coverage to pick up 24 yards. Then he drew a pass interference call to help Marist pick up a first down after committing a pair of penalties. To cap off his impressive drive, he freed himself up from the defense and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass.

Day recorded 202 passing yards, a game-leading 54 rushing yards, two total touchdowns and an interception. Menders tallied seven catches, 82 yards and a touchdown. Downes racked up 52 receiving yards on a pair of catches and redshirt junior wide receiver Scott Scherzer secured four catches for 31 yards. 

The Marist defense allowed Morehead State to drive into their territory often. But with their backs against the wall, the Foxes held strong and forced the Eagles into attempting a 40-plus-yard goal twice, both of which missed. These stands afforded Marist the chance to build on their leads but they couldn’t take advantage of them. 

Redshirt junior linebacker Jayden Johnson led the Red Foxes in tackles on the day with 14. Redshirt junior linebacker Mike Arrington recorded 12 tackles and two sacks and redshirt senior safety Teddy Wright tallied nine tackles. Morehead State senior linebacker Vincent Whitney led the Eagles with 12 tackles and two sacks.

Marist will head to St. Paul, Minnesota for their next game on Saturday, Oct. 30 against St. Thomas. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m.

Edited by Mackenzie Meaney

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kinane

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