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El Dorado’s defense recorded two safeties and returned a fumble for a touchdown Friday as the Wildcats traveled to Marion and returned with a 45-34 win. El Dorado improved to 2-3 overall and 2-0 in 6A-East play. The Patriots fell to 1-6, 1-3.

“Defense stepped up and played well when they needed to. Both sides of the ball left some plays out there,” said El Dorado coach Steven Jones. “We looked like a team in the second half that missed two weeks of play. From midway through the third quarter, we were not very sharp on either side of the ball. But we kept competing and the kids played hard and we finished. Anytime you come out with a win on the road, it’s a great thing.”

Eli Shepherd completed 15 of 25 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns. Deandra Burns had eight receptions for 120 yards.

“Eli Shepherd played great tonight, did some good stuff,” said Jones. “He kind of changed some stuff at the line of scrimmage, saw some man coverage out there and took advantage of it. Shepherd did a good job of leading us and navigating us through the entire game. I thought he managed the game very well.

“Offensive line was good. The key to the offense tonight was exactly what we always say. We took what they gave us. They played a lot of cover zero and we were able to make some plays in man coverage. When they put two safeties out there, Branden Moore was good between the tackles and had some good runs. Shepherd had a couple key runs on third down. Overall, very pleased.”

El Dorado’s first score was a safety, set up by Shepherd’s 39-yard quick punt, which was downed at the 5-yard line. A pair of procedure flags inched the Patriots back to the 2 before the Wildcats’ Damarian Rester tackled the running back in the end zone with 7:12 left in the opening quarter.

Marion would answer, scoring on a 30-yard touchdown pass after a lateral. The PAT put the Patriots on top 7-2 with 1:40 left in the first.

The Wildcats answered with an 80-yard drive in seven plays. Moore had a 26-yard run and Deandra Burns had a 48-yard reception. On fourth down, Moore scored on a 1-yard run. Dave Carruth kicked the PAT for a 9-7 lead with 11:38 left in the second.

Marion’s ensuing drive began at the 7. But the Patriots used 13 plays to set up Dylan Pieri, who drilled a 26-yard field for a 10-9 lead with 8:08 left in the second.

The Wildcats answered quickly. On third-and-4, Shepherd hooked up with Jackie Washington on a 74-yard touchdown pass. Carruth’s kick put El Dorado up 16-10 with 7:39 left in the half.

Marion answered with a 41-yard touchdown just six plays later to regain the lead 17-16 with 6:07 on the clock. The Wildcats went back down the field, 80 yards in seven plays, capped by Shepherd’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Burns. With Carruth’s PAT, El Dorado led 23-17 with 1:58 left in the half.

The Wildcats ended the string of consecutive scoring possessions at six when Patrick Sixbey sacked the quarterback at the Marion 10, setting up a punt.

Washington returned the punt 38 yards to the 9. Three plays later, Burns hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 30-17 with 21 seconds on the clock.

Amazingly, Marion used a 38-yard run to set up Pieri’s 42-yard field goal on the final play of the half, which cut the lead to 30-20.

“It turned into a track meet for a little bit,” said Jones. “We were just able to keep fighting punch for punch. That’s ultra-important on the road, just keep battling and when you get the opportunity, just go make a play. Our guys did that tonight.”

Both defenses showed better in the second half, especially the Wildcats.

Marion’s Dontonio Moore intercepted El Dorado in the end zone for a touchback. After an incomplete pass, a false start moved the ball back to the 15. After a 1-yard loss, and a 1-yard pass play, the Patriots were faced with fourth down.

El Dorado narrowly missed blocking the punt but was flagged for running into the kicker – a 5-yard penalty. Marion elected to punt again and, this time, the snap sailed over the kicker’s head and out of the end zone for a safety with 7:50 left in the third.

The Wildcats returned the ensuing free kick to the 42. Jarmel Love had a pair of 18-yard receptions before Sharmon Rester scored on a 15-yard scamper, pushing the lead to 39-20 with 4:01 left in the third.

El Dorado’s defense applied the dagger. Marion marched to the EHS 13 before a shotgun snap with awry. After a scramble for the ball, Jyrin Steward scooped up the fumble and ran 75 yards for the touchdown and a 45-20 advantage with 1:46 left in the third.

Marion fought back and tacked on a couple of fourth quarter scores, including a 44-yard TD pass to Zion Burnside at the 10:27 mark and a 15-yard run with 2:25 remaining.

But the Wildcats elected to chew clock and Mario Ganter sealed the victory with his second interception of the game.

“I’m just proud of how we competed. I’m proud of how resilient our kids were. We faced some adversity tonight and had to make some big plays and we made ‘em,” said Jones.

“We really feel like we have some momentum heading into the last three games of the season. With a win, it sets us up to really be in the driver’s seat for what we want to accomplish in conference play.”

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