If one thing kept the Marcellus football team from a higher level of play in 2007, it was a defense that, by season's end, was banged up and prone to allowing big plays -- as Westhill's Dale Ross demonstrated in the Section III Class B semifinals.
As the 2008 season began last Friday night, the Mustangs still hadn't solved all those issues -- but it's moving in the right direction.
Just when it mattered, Marcellus shut out the Golden Knights in the fourth quarter, allowing for a comeback and a 23-21 victory.
This proved to be a back-and-forth affair as the Mustangs, 6-3 a season ago, blew a double-digit halftime lead, yet showed some resolve in rallying down the stretch.
Operating from the spread offense he had mastered while throwing for more than 2,100 yards last fall, junior quarterback Will Fiacchi led a trio of scoring drives after HP went up 7-0 on Dan Fruscella's six-yard touchdown run.
Each drive ended in a different way. First, Marcellus drove to the one-yard line and had sophomore fullback Ricky Alfreds punch it home for the tying TD late in the opening period.
In the second quarter, when the Mustangs' drive stalled at the Golden Knights' 13, Fiacchi displayed his strong right foot, blasting a 30-yard field goal through the uprights and putting Marcellus ahead 10-7.
All that was left was to get a TD pass -- and Fiacchi obliged just before halftime, connecting with Joe Cornish on a 20-yard scoring strike to make it 17-7 going into the break.
As much as Marcellus dominated the second quarter, HP did the same in the third period. Fruscella returned with a 33-yard TD run that cut the margin to 17-14, and when the Golden Knights got the ball back, it drove to the three-yard line, from where Tyler Mann converted.