After a wild first half that saw the Marion Warriors leading the undefeated Hillsboro Trojans 21-20 at intermission, Hillsboro took charge in the second half to claim a 40-21 victory Friday at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
The win improves Hillsboro’s record to 8-0 overall and 2-0 in district play while Marion dropped to 3-5 and 1-1.
The key play of the night may have been a five-yard run by Marion quarterback Taylor Heidebrecht that took the Warriors to the Trojan 8-yard line with 8:50 left in the third quarter. Heidebrecht left the game at the point, presumably with an injury, and never returned.
Without the elusive Heidebrecht, who had rolled up 114 rushing yards on 11 carries, the Warriors not only lacked the offensive punch to get into the end zone on what turned out to be a critical possession, but struggled the rest of the evening to sustain a drive against the Trojan defense.
After Hillsboro took over on downs at the 8-yard line following the change of possession, the Trojans got to midfield in eight plays. From there, quarterback Tyler Proffitt connected with receiver Shaq Thiessen across the middle, and the senior standout zig-zagged his way through the remaining defenders for a 50-yard touchdown, a 26-21 Hillsboro lead and a huge momentum swing.
Even so, Marion had a chance to retake the lead later in the quarter after tackling Thiessen at the Trojan 24-yard line after a high snap from center prompted him to forsake a punt attempt and run unsuccessfully for a first down.
Marion took over at the Trojan 27-yard line. A 24-yard carry by James Jones moved the ball to the 3. But three negligible runs and an incomplete pass on fourth down ended the Warrior threat.
Hillsboro didn’t really take control of the game until midway into the final quarter when the Trojans drove 68 yards in eight plays with Proffitt scoring on a sweep to the right side from 12 yards out. Jesse Brown’s kick made 33-21 with 6:16 to go.
Marion then drove to the Trojan 12-yard-line, but Shaq Thiessen intercepted a Zach Robson pass at the Trojan 3, and gave Hillsboro possession at its 28-yard line after a penalty-reduced return.
A 12-yard run by Proffitt and a 50-yard gallop by Tyrell Thiessen put the Trojans at the Warrior 10-yard line in two plays. Two plays after that, Proffitt scored from 11 yards out for the final points of the night.
Marion looked every bit an equal to the Trojans during the first half. Hillsboro got a break early when Tyrell Thiessen recovered a Warrior fumble at the Trojan 47-yard line. After a roughing-the-passer penalty wiped out Kyle Palic’s interception of a Proffitt pass, the Trojans scored on the next play from the 16-yard line on a run by Preston Nelson. Brown’s kick made it 7-0.
But Marion came right back on the running of Heidebrecht and Brody Carroll, advancing 83 yards in nine plays. Carroll crossed the goal line from a yard out with 5:52 left in the first quarter. Gif Case’s kick tied the game at 7-7.
Hillsboro then drove 74 yards from its 20 to the Marion 6 in 14 plays. But on fourth-and-six, Brown missed a field goal attempt from 26 yards out with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
The Warriors took their first lead early in the second quarter when Carroll scored from 19 yards out to cap an 81-yard drive in only six plays. Runs of 37 and 22 yards by Heidebrecht fueled the surge. Case missed the PAT kick, but Marion led 13-7.
Hillsboro responded on its next possession with a 75-yard drive that ended successfully in eight plays on a six-yard pass from Proffitt to Evan Ollenburger with 8:48 left in the half. Brown’s kick gave Hillsboro a 14-13 lead.
With 6:00 left in the half, Marion’s James Jones snagged a Proffitt pass, and Marion had the ball at the Trojan 27. Five plays later, Heidebrecht carried the ball for the fourth time and scored from five yards out. A two-point conversion pass from Heidebrecht to Caleb Williams put Marion ahead 21-14.
But Warrior euphoria was shortlived. Shaq Thiessen took the kickoff and ran 95 yards for paydirt, pulling Hillsboro to within one point at 21-20 with 3:21 left in the half. Brown’s game-tying kick missed the mark, and the score remained the same until halftime — thanks in no small part to Tyrell Thiessen’s recovery of a Warrior fumble, and John Nordquist’s recovery of a Hillsboro fumble that thwarted scoring opportunities by both teams.
Hillsboro finished the night with a 29-14 advantage in first downs, and a 486-295 advantage in total offense.
Shaq Thiessen had 112 receiving yards on five catches and Tyrell Thiessen 102 yards on 10 catches. Proffitt threw for 285 yards on 24-for-35 passing, and led the rushing attack with 98 yards on 25 carries.
For Marion, Heidebrecht’s 114 yards was enough to make him Marion’s top rusher. Carroll added 106 yards on 24 carries.
Defensively, both teams claimed three interceptions. Shaq Thiessen had two and Brown one for Hillsboro, while Jones snagged two and Carroll one for Marion. Tyrell Thiessen added two fumble recoveries for the Trojans.
Coming—Next week, both teams will finish the regular season with key district contests.
Hillsboro will travel to Halstead (1-1 in district play, 5-3 overall). A win would give the Trojans the district championship as well as sole ownership of the North Division title in the Central Kansas League at 4-0. A loss to the Dragons could leave the Trojans vulnerable to the tie-breaker system for a top-two finish in the district.
Meanwhile, Marion travels to Moundridge (0-2, 1-7). A Warrior win over the Wildcats, combined with a Hillsboro win over Halstead, would assure Marion of a state-playoff berth as the No. 2 finisher. A Hillsboro loss and a Warrior win would throw the district race to the tie-breaker system.