It had been two years since Benilde-St. Margaret's running back Joe Marinaro stepped on a football field on game night. Injuries — a broken leg and broken back — were the culprits, keeping the 5-11, 215-pound senior from doing what he loves most: Hitting.
Marinaro took out two years of frustration Friday, rushing for 87 yards and a touchdown, catching a 13-yard scoring pass, making six tackles and setting a physical tone for his team with relentless drive and big hits as the Red Knight defeated Orono 21-7.
"I just like to be physical, and I love hitting," Marinaro said. "I just wanted to come out and hit people tonight. That's what I love doing."
"He's a horse," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Jon Hanks said. "Credit to him. Two catastrophic-like injuries where most people would have said, 'I'm done playing football' and he comes back and works so hard."
The Red Knights took their cue from Marinaro, establishing a punishing, physical style of play that kept them close when nothing else was going right.
Through much of the first half, the offense hurt itself with fumbles, blocked kicks, penalties and an inability to make a big play.
Orono, which was breaking in a new offense, struggled against the aggressive Red Knights' front seven. But the Spartans took a 7-0 lead on a 67-yard scoring strike from Teddy Deters to Noah Arneson.
Benilde-St. Margaret's went downfield crisply on its next possession. Marinaro ran 38 yards on the first play, delivering a blow at the end of the run that knocked an Orono defender back 5 yards and drew oohs from the crowd. But Orono's defense, which played well all game, stood firm and stopped Marinaro on fourth-and-goal from the 2 to maintain the lead.
On its next possession, Benilde-St. Margaret's broke through when Marinaro freight-trained up the middle for a 5-yard score, tying the score at 7-7.
In the second half, the Red Knights seized momentum, punishing an out-of-sync Orono offense the first three times the Spartans had the ball, holding them to a minus-18 yards.
"We work on tackling every day," Hanks said. "We're not hitting a lot in practice but we're working the fundamentals. It's hit, wrap, run. We don't just want to hit; we want to bring them down."
The Red Knights took the lead for good when quarterback Nick Peterson hit Marinaro in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
With the lead in hand, and even with superstar Isaiah Smith out because of a broken foot, the Red Knights' depth at running back paid off. Sophomore Camden Royal bounced back from two first-half fumbles to rush for 101 yards and the Red Knights' final touchdown. Benilde-St. Margaret's had six players combine to rush for 255 yards.