MARSHALL — For the second time in three weeks, the Paris Tigers football team played the spoiler role during an opposing team’s homecoming.
This time, it was the Marshall Lions (4-2) who had their festivities ruined by the Tigers, as Paris defeated their Little Illini Conference foe 49-14 on Friday night.
The win marks the first time since 2001 the Tigers have defeated the Lions.
With the victory, the Tigers (6-0) have punched their ticket to the IHSA playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
As has been the case throughout the season, the Tiger defense flexed their collective muscle during the course of the game.
After winning the coin toss, Paris Coach Jeremy Clodfelder decided to put his defense on the field to start the game. The move proved to be the right one as the Tigers forced a three-and-out on the Lion’s first possession.
As has also been the case throughout the season, the Tigers found the end zone on their first drive as Coy Landrum found pay dirt from six yards out for the score. Garrett King tacked on the extra point and the Tigers led 7-0 just 2:49 into the game.
Marshall began their next drive at their own 33-yard line and drove into Tiger territory. On fourth-and-8 from the Tiger 24-yard line, Marshall’s drive stalled and they turned the ball over on downs. The Lions were driving once again but senior safety Caleb Mullenix intercepted the Luke Cook pass near mid-field, and returned it to the Lion 35-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Sam Mays took the handoff from quarterback Caleb Gates and sprinted across the goal line to give the Tigers the two-touchdown lead.
Marshall once again went three-and-out on their next possession and a poor punt led to the Tigers gaining possession in Lion territory.
Just five plays later, Nathan Zorn plunged in from four yards out and following the extra point by King, the Tigers held a 21-0 lead.
On the next play, the Tigers looked to put the game away for good as Marshall’s Jake Tharp fumbled the football on the kickoff and Tiger Connor Crunk recovered at the Lion’s 31-yard line.
On third down at the Marshall 21-yard line, a Gates pass was deflected and fell right into the arms of Brayden Vondohlen who returned it 79 yards for a Marshall touchdown. Cole Livixx added the extra point and the lead was cut to 21-7 halfway through the second quarter.
That was as close as the Lions would get the rest of the game as the Tigers went on an 11-play drive that ate up the final 7:52 of the half.
With just one second left on the clock, Paris called a timeout facing a fourth-and-goal at the five yardline. Gates found Josh Willmoth on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for the backbreaking touchdown as the teams headed to the locker room.
Leading 28-7, Paris marched 54 yards on their first possession of the third quarter, with Landrum finding the end zone once again to give the Tigers the 35-7 lead.
The Tiger defense forced yet another three-and-out on the next possession for the Lions and like they have done all season, struck quickly.
Paris took just four plays to score following the Marshall punt with Carter Hays scoring on a jet-sweep from six yards away. The two-point conversion attempt failed and Paris led 41-7.
Despite the starters on the sideline for the entire fourth quarter, the Tiger scoring onslaught against the Lions continued.
Linebacker Connor Crunk recovered his second fumble of the night — only this time he rumbled 55 yards for the touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Danny Perry ran the ball in for the two-point conversion and the Tigers led 49-7, invoking the running clock for the remainder of the game.
Paris dominated every facet of the game as they gained 462 yards of total offense while holding Marshall to 220. It should be pointed out 76 of those Lion offensive yards came on the final touchdown run as sophomore Orin Svika outran the Tiger JV defense for a touchdown.
The Tigers had the ball for 28 minutes compared to just 19 for the Lions.
Caleb Gates completed seven-of-15 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown. He also ran the ball nine times for 60 yards as the Tigers amassed 374 yards on the ground in the game.
Landrum led the Tiger rushing attack with 79 yards on 12 carries and he scored a pair of touchdowns. Zorn carried just six times, but he gained 69 yards and scored once. Mason Hutchings carried the ball three times for 50 yards, Mullenix carried three times for 36 yards, Perry toted the ball three times as well for 28 yards, Hays had three carries for 27 yards and a score, Sam Mays had a pair of carries for 21 yards and a touchdown, Mason Stuck had a two carries for three yards, and Cooper Block had three carries for one yard.
Willmoth was the leading receiver for the Tigers as he hauled in three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Mays and Zorn each had one catch for 15 yards, Block caught one ball for six yards, and Hays had a catch for four yards.
Clodfelder was elated to get the victory over the team he calls the “Team Down South” on their homecoming.
“This football team is fun. They come to work every day, practice really hard, and their effort is relentless,” the Paris coach said. “We try to emphasize distribution of the ball over being a balanced team on offense. We want to be hard to scout, hard to game plan for and really spread the ball around to a bunch of our dudes.”
Clodfelder said the plan was for the Tigers to “come out throwing the ball tonight, but our first possession was into the wind.”
That wind made its appearance during the National Anthem and remained steady at around 15 miles-per-hour throughout the night.
“So, we just established the run instead and our line was physical all night long,” Clodfelder explained.
The Tigers now sit alone atop the Little Illini Conference standings with a 5-0 record.
Next up for Paris will be a homecoming clash of their own with the Olney Tigers, who are just a game behind the Tigers in the conference standings.
Kickoff is scheduled for Friday night at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.