BONIFAY — Aside from a few notable miscues, Arnold looked very little like a team in rebuilding mode Friday night.
The Marlins overwhelmed Holmes County on both sides of the ball in a game more lopsided than the score would indicate, posting a 35-0 victory at Memorial Field in a non-district game that marked the season opener for both programs.
The Marlins, a Class 5A school that finished 2-7 last year, proved too mighty for Holmes County, a Class 1A program also reloading this year. Arnold led 7-0 at halftime before taking control in the second half.
The Marlins swarmed Justice Bice in the backfield for a safety and a 9-0 lead early in the second half. Arnold quickly boosted its lead to 16-0 with Torri Cotton's 19-yard sprint to the end zone with 10:17 remaining in the third quarter.
Arnold's Connor MacKenzie blocked a punt out of the end zone to increase Arnold's lead to 18-0 with 7:44 left in the third quarter. Ninety seconds later, Marlin quarterback Cody Saunders located Dario Batiste open in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass and a 25-0 advantage.
Marlins place-kicker Austin Peffers contributed with a 29-yard field goal with just over 10 minutes remaining for a 28-0 lead. MacKenzie, who had a punt return for a touchdown called back earlier in the game because of a penalty, scored on a 30-yard punt return with 6:44 left to provide the final margin and a running clock.
Saunders scored the Marlins' first touchdown of the season with a 1-yard sneak into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the first quarter. That scoring opportunity was provided when Arnold's defense forced a fumble and recovered it at the Holmes County 14-yard line. Saunders scored seven plays later.
The Blue Devils responded with a 77-yard burst by Chad Leavins on the first play of their next drive. Darcel Johnson's tackle of Leavins at Arnold's 2-yard line saved a touchdown, however, and the Marlins forced Holmes County to lose a total of 6 yards on the next four plays from scrimmage to turn away the threat and preserve the shutout.
That goal-line stand punctuated a dominant performance by Arnold's defense, particularly the defensive line, in the first half. The Blue Devils gained 1 yard or fewer on 13 of 26 plays before halftime. Outside of the one long run, Leavins otherwise was limited to 0 yards on his other 10 carries in the first two quarters.
Arnold running back Torri Cotton amassed 76 yards on six carries in the first half, but he had two long touchdown runs negated by holding penalties. The first was a 62-yard scamper midway through the opening quarter. The other was a 66-yard romp early in the second quarter.
An Arnold penalty also spoiled Darcel Johnson's 43-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second half.
Cotton finished with a game-high 133 rushing yards on 11 carries, and Saunders finished with 113 yards on 6-for-12 passing.