The Marion football team bounced back in a big way at home Friday night, overwhelming Halstead, 40-22, for an extra-special district opener and senior night. With the win, the Warriors will have to best one of two upcoming opponents – Hillsboro Friday and Moundridge the following week – to make the play-offs.
“I’m very pleased to have our seniors end the game in a very positive way,” said coach Grant Thierolf. “I was really pleased with the effort we had in practice all week long, just keeping our heads up and staying positive and being resilient. That’s a big thing in life, being resilient and coming back when things aren’t going the way you want them to go. You still have to show up to work every day, and they did that tonight.”
Cool, wet weather didn’t dampen the Warriors’ spirits as they got off to a sizzling start, forcing Halstead to go four-and-out on the first possession of the game, and taking over the ball on Halstead’s 25-yard line. Then junior quarterback Taylor Heidebrecht, who was back in fine form after being sidelined with an injury for the second half of last week’s game, rushed to the six on a spinning scramble and then senior running back Brody Carroll ran in for a Marion touchdown, making it 7-0 with the extra point.
“We kind of dictated the game when they went for fourth down on their first possession and we shut them down,” said coach Grant Thierolf. “I thought our kids got energized by that…We’re always looking for those things, and the kids just did a great job of hanging in there, persevering, and going at it. From a confidence stand-point, that’s tremendous.”
Halstead picked up a first down on a big run after a touchback started them at their 20, but promptly fumbled the ball away near Marion’s 37-yard line with just under five minutes left in the period. Marion stuttered and moved backward, preparing to punt on fourth-and-twelve, when a bad snap went over the head of punter Kyle Palic. But Palic turned a bad play into big yardage, scooping up the ball and running downfield to Halstead’s 15-yard line with 2:35 remaining.
“A huge play, a huge first down,” Thierolf said. “I thought Kyle Palic played lights-out tonight.”
Heidebrecht took over from there, pounding in for the touchdown for a quick 14-0 lead with the PAT kick as the first quarter wound down.
Marion proved equally dominant in the second period, earning the sack on a third-and-five to stop Halstead before Heidebrecht picked up a first down and then another touchdown, 21-0, at 6:48. It looked like Halstead might finally get something going as the half came to a close, as it moved the ball to its own 42-yard line. But senior wide receiver Jacob Harper came up with the big play for the Warriors, intercepting the pass to give Marion the ball at their own 48-yard line as the clock ran out. The Warriors took a 21-0 lead into the halftime break.
The team that came out in the second half was a squad with its sights firmly set on the play-offs, as Marion came roaring out of the locker room to drive for a rushing touchdown on its first possession of the half, 27-0. They got another big break when Warrior Evan Slater recovered a fumble at the Halstead 43-yard line with 6:51 on the clock, setting up a Marion touchdown drive as Heidebrecht and Carroll pounded away at the Dragon defense. Carroll ran in for the score, bringing the Warriors up, 33-0, with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.
“That was a huge thing,” Thierolf said. “I thought for three-and-a-half quarters, we played our best football of the year. But I know we can play better.”
Halstead finally put points on the board on its next possession, taking advantage of a facemask penalty that started them at the 50-yard line. With the two-point conversion the Dragons trailed, 33-6, at the end of the period.
Back-to-back Marion fumbles in its own territory, which were recovered by Halstead, resulting in two touchdowns and two-point conversions for the Dragons in the fourth quarter and a somewhat misleading final score of 40-22.
“I felt like our kids sustained the effort better than they have all year long,” Thierolf said. “We’re pretty excited, but we know that there’s still a whole lot of season left and a whole lot of things we can get better at. But it was a good start tonight.”