There’s only one word to describe Marion’s 50-27 road opener loss to Ell-Saline Friday.
The Cardinals soared to an 18-0 lead in the initial seven minutes of play, scoring on their first three possessions.
In contrast, Marion repeatedly shot itself in the foot, drawing penalties, dropping snaps and fumbling the ball.
The second half looked eerily similar, until both teams put in their underclassmen—though for opposite reasons.
“Our kids didn’t play like we should have played,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “(Ell-Saline) out-coached us and outplayed us. That won’t happen anymore.
“It was just a very poorly executed football game.”
Ell-Saline took possession of the ball out of gate, driving to the Marion 25-yard line before being moved back 10 yards on a holding call.
One play later, Ell-Saline’s Kaleb Whitehair ran in for the first touchdown with 9:30 remaining. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
After Marion’s initial drive fizzled, the Cardinals went right back to work. With 7:50 left in the first quarter, Ell-Saline’s Toby Omli broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run. A second two-point conversion attempt failed, but Ell-Saline led, 12-0.
Brody Carroll returned the ensuing kick to the 41-yard line to give Marion good field position for its second attempt. But one again the drive stalled when James Jones was tackled for a loss and a pass to Jacob Harper fell incomplete.
Making matters worse, a bad snap foiled Marion’s punt attempt and quarterback Taylor Heidebrecht was downed at the Marion 21-yard line.
Not about to waste the opportunity, the Cardinals’ Garrett Walker completed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Keegan Hays, making the score 20-0 after Whitehair ran in the two-point conversion.
Once more Carroll returned the kick to near midfield, but the Warriors lost a fumble along the right sideline at the 46-yard line.
Fortunately for the Warriors, the Cardinals fumbled it right back with 4:06 left to go. But Marion fumbled away the ball again to Ell-Saline, who eventually punted the ball inside the Marion 20.
The second period didn’t improve Marion’s fortunes. The Warriors bungled a punt attempt with a bad snap, giving Ell-Saline the ball on the Warriors’ 3-yard line.
From there it was a hop, skip and jump for Omli to reach the end zone. Ell-Saline’s two-point conversion made it 28-0 with 11:38 left in the half.
Hope flickered when Marion’s Kyle Palic pounded up the middle for two first downs, moving the ball deep into Cardinal territory. But Palic fumbled near the Ell-Saline 20-yard line with 3:49 remaining.
Marion stopped the Cardinals from capitalizing on the lost fumble, but couldn’t take advantage of the turnovers it forced Ell-Saline to make.
Harper intercepted a pass on the 12-yard line, but Marion gave the ball right back on a fumble at the 11-yard line with only seconds left in the half.
Harper then snagged his second interception and ran to the 26, but the clock ran out with Ell-Saline still leading 28-0 at intermission.
The Cardinals continued their rout right out of the locker room with a 51-yard touchdown run from Whitehair at 8:08, making it 36-0 after the two-point conversion.
Marion’s Harper and Carroll both went down on the play, and Carroll did not return to the game because of injury.
With a minute left in the quarter, Taylor Heidebrecht, Palic and Jones combined for three first downs and moved the ball to the Cardinal 10.
Marion finally scored early in the final period when Palic ran five yards for a touchdown. Grif Case’s kick made it 36-7.
But Ell-Saline responded with an 86-yard touchdown run from LuizAntonio Arceo at 10:29 to up its lead to 42-7.
Heidebrecht then broke free and dashed 73 yards for the team’s second touchdown with just over 10 minutes left. Case’s kick made 42-14.
Arceo took over for Ell-Saline, cutting twice to avoid Marion tacklers and then streaked down field for a 74-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass made it 50-14.
Marion scored twice more after Ell-Saline brought in its junior varsity. Adam Janzen ran for a 20-yard score at 2:45 and Heidebrecht scored a touchdown to make the final score 50-27.
“We weren’t in position on anything,” Thierolf said. “There was nothing (Ell-Saline) did that surprised us, it was just lack of effort and lack of execution.”
Despite the poor performances from most of his players, Thierolf did identify one bright spot.
“I thought Jon Nordquist played pretty well tonight, played pretty hard,” he said. “He practices hard all the time and plays hard all the time.”
The Warriors will need more of that if they are to pull out a win against defending league champion Sedgwick Friday at Warrior Stadium.