After a rocky first quarter left Marion in a 2-0 hole, the Warriors rallied for an 8-2 advantage at halftime.
Austin Hager scored the team’s first touchdown of the season, rumbling into the end zone from 19 yards out with 5:00 left in the second quarter. Leading 6-2, Marion head coach Grant Thierolf opted for a 2-point conversion attempt, and Mitchell Leppke scampered into the endzone untouched to make it 8-2.
Hager ripped another big run through the heart of the Dragon defense on the second play of the third quarter. Sheldon Boone capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run seven plays later. Marion’s second 2-point conversion attempt came within inches of putting the Warriors up by 14 points with 7:13 to play in the third, but a heavy hit stopped Leppke just short of the goal line.
Even so, the Marion ground attack ran out the clock efficiently enough to limit Halstead to only three possessions the rest of the way, and the Warrior defense intercepted junior quarterback Tyler Ratzlaff twice to preserve the win.
Even with Hager, Boone and Leppke tearing up the grass on offense, the Warrior defense may have made the biggest plays of the night.
In the first quarter, a special teams miscue led to a safety an a 2-0 lead for Halstead. Then, having kicked the ball to the Dragons, Marion forced a 3-and-out on Halstead’s ensuing offensive possession. The Warrior offense fumbled to cut short its next drive, and the Dragons nearly capitalized on the mistake when Ratzlaff threaded a pass to running back Spencer Soward, who was sprinting up the sideline. Senior cornerback Chase Carlson ran ahead of the play and cut down Soward in the open field to prevent the big-gainer from turning into a touchdown.
But Halstead still threatened, holding the ball first-and-10, deep in Marion territory. But the Warriors rallied and pushed the Dragons into a decisive fourth-and-11 and denied the scoring chance when Mark Kukuk stopped a scrambling Ratzlaff well behind the line of scrimmage.
The Warrior defense was equal to the task again when Halstead needed to score late in the game. Carlson again kept Halstead out of the end zone, this time by stepping in front of a receiver to intercept Ratzlaff’s pass with 8:06 remaining. Halstead took over again with 2:03 left in the game and converted two fourth down plays before Leppke intercepted an errant pass with 0:56 remaining.