EDMOND — The play keeps flashing through Justin Marcha's mind, and then he watches the film in disbelief.
Marcha, Edmond Memorial's senior kicker, made perhaps the best play any punter has made this season Friday night against Edmond Santa Fe, producing a game-saving hit that forced Malik Earl to fumble just outside the end zone late in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs recovered the fumble to preserve a huge playoff-clinching victory for Memorial.
“All weekend I've been looking at it and I'm like, ‘Did this really happen?'” Marcha said. “I didn't know that he did like a front flip when I hit him and landed 5 yards out of the side of the end zone and 10 yards further.
“All I remember is I hit him, I went sideways and I landed on the first-down marker. Then I look up and he's over there kind of like, ‘Oh my god, did that just happen?'”
From the beginning of the play, though, things looked destined for disaster.
After a three-and-out pinned Memorial on its own 6 to force Marcha to punt from the end zone with a 28-20 lead, sophomore Jonah Weltzheimer's snap rolled to Marcha, who struggled to pick it off the turf in the end zone. Miraculously, he was able to get a punt away off the side of his foot.
Earl, who had been making big returns all night, picked up the punt at the 40 and broke down the far sideline, where he found daylight to the end zone. But as Earl neared the goal line, he unexplainably dove for the end zone, only to be met by Marcha midair to pop the ball loose and into the arms of Memorial linebacker Jake Mammen for a touchback.
“Well to begin with — it all happened so fast — the way he was looking was like he was trying to showboat a little bit, but at the last second I noticed that he elevated, and that's when I dove at him,” Marcha said. “The way he was running, I knew he was going to give every effort, I just had to give more effort.”
Four plays later, star running back Warren Wand sealed the game with a 55-yard touchdown run.
At that point, it was obvious where the play of the game came from.
“I'm the type of guy who on a play like that I'm more upset that we actually gave them the opportunity to go down there and have a chance to score, and then I'm also worried about Jake, making sure that he gets down and doesn't try to run it out,” Memorial coach Justin Merideth said. “I'm thinking of those things and then it's more after the fact that I start saying, ‘Man, that was an unbelievable play that Justin made.'”
Marcha also delivered another huge play earlier in the game, kicking a perfect surprise onside kick to start the second half that gave Memorial the ball and momentum. Memorial then scored a touchdown to take a 28-13 lead.
“That's one of those deals where, again, we trust him to make plays for us,” Merideth said. “That was a great kick; you couldn't have kicked it any better. That totally changes everything and it's a huge advantage to be able to do something like that.”
The Bulldogs are now playing possibly for second place in District 6A-4 on Friday against Putnam City West.
They also now possess bragging rights in Edmond, beating both Santa Fe and Edmond North this season. And one big play is the defining moment.
“That play, I looked over it and so many momentum changers happened in just that play,” Marcha said. “That game was something to remember because my senior class has never been city champs. It was pretty intense.”