All season long, the Marcellus football team has taken some grief for its defense - or lack of it - given that it surrendered 43 points to Cazenovia, 49 points to Chittenango and 58 points to Homer.
But it was that same defense that was largely responsible for the Mustangs' triumphant return to the post-season after a one-year absence.
Turnovers, both in the early and late stages, helped Marcellus turn back Vernon-Verona-Sherrill 14-6 in Friday night's opening round of the Section III Class B playoffs, just as Westhill was getting knocked out at Oneida in a 37-0 defeat to the Indians.
A 4-2 league record, and wins over Westhill and Cortland, helped Marcellus earn that all-important home-field advantage, and it was getting VVS at a perfect time, just six days after the Red Devils lost a hard-fought 27-17 decision to defending champion Cazenovia.
Plus, the Red Devils did not have its starting quarterback, Christian Tiffin, on the field after an injury suffered against the Lakers.
Knowing it was dealing with a VVS offense in flux, the Mustangs immediately imposed its defensive will, as Cole Walsh intercepted an errant pass by Tiffin's replacement, Matt McCoy, in the opening minutes. Marcellus quickly drove to the VVS 20-yard line, from where Tom Keegan sprinted to the end zone for the game's first touchdown.
And that would be the Mustangs' lone points of the first half, as VVS settled down on the defensive side, waiting for its own offense to provide some sort of contribution against a Mustang defensive unit that, anchored by Mike Hastings and Wyatt Stehle, limited the Red Devils to two first downs in the first quarter.
VVS broke through late in the second quarter, as the Red Devils broke a big play with Brandon Spaven going 85 yards near the Mustangs' goal line, and Spaven went the final four yards for the TD.