Warriors clip Minneapolis in opener, 21-14

Using an uncharacteristic passing attack, the Marion Warriors toppled the Minneapolis Lions Friday night late in the fourth quarter for a 21-14 season-opening win.

On the first series of the game, Minneapolis quarterback Jake Gawith was picked off by a Warrior defender.

On Marion’s second play from scrimmage, Robert Verbic bolted around the right end and scored the first touchdown on a 26-yard run. Alex Saxonis kicked the extra point to put the Warriors up 7-0 at the 10:15 mark of the first quarter.

Marion kicked off and forced the Lions to punt on fourth down. But the Warriors were flagged for roughing the kicker and Minneapolis retained possession.

The Lions then clawed their way toward the goal line. But on fourth and six, Verbic stopped the Lions running back just inches from a first down with an open-field tackle.

After Warrior quarterback Jared Smith fumbled the ball and the Lions recovered, Minneapolis drove for the score with Gawith running it in from the 3-yard line with 2:38 left in the first quarter. The PAT was no good and the Warriors still led, 7-6.

In the second quarter, the Lions’ defense stopped Marion’s running game. The Warriors would rely on the arm of Smith to save them.

Backed up around the Marion 30-yard line, Smith found Verbic for a 30-yard bomb to give the Warriors a first-and-10 around the Lions’ 40.

Then, facing a crucial fourth-and-10, Smith hit wide receiver Jason Matz across the middle to pick up the first down.

Combining running and passing, the Warriors drove inside the 10-yard line. Smith then tossed a pass to running back Steven Boone who blasted in from seven yards out for a Marion touchdown.

Saxonis’s kick failed, but the Warriors led 14-6 with 8:03 left in the half.

On their next possession, Minneapolis struck back as Garwith hit wide receiver Jacob Nelson along the sideline for a 73-yard score. Running back Jeff Mortimer added the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 with 1:30 left before intermission.

In the third quarter, both teams struggled to find consistency on offense. The Warriors fumbled the ball three times while Minneapolis threw an interception. Neither team managed to score.

Going into the fourth quarter, the Marion running game began showing signs of life as Boone and Jarvis Whiteman began banging off defenders for gains of five or more yards per carry.

With the ball on Marion’s 34-yard line, Smith hit Matz streaking down the field for a 34-yard pass.

After an 18-yard run by Whiteman, the Warriors fumbled the ball on the 16 but recovered with less than five minutes left in the game.

On second down, Marion’s Smith handed off to Matz for a pick up of three yards on the play.

With the game’s end approaching, Smith threw an over-the-shoulder pass to senior wide receiver Braxton Skiles for the touchdown, putting the Warriors ahead 20-14. The PAT made it 21-14 with 3:42 left.

Minneapolis got the ball back with less than three minutes in the game. Warrior lineman Alan Vogel came up with a big sack on the Lions’ first down.

The Lions tried several desperation passes, but would eventually turn the ball over on downs.

Marion ran three running plays then punted, giving the Lions one last crack with 26 seconds left in the game.

Gawith completed only one of four passes and the Warriors took over with only eight seconds remaining.

After the game, Marion coach Grant Thierolf said he was pleased by his team’s performance.

“We made a lot of mistakes, but our kids played pretty hard tonight,” he said. “With the exception of one or two plays on defense, I thought our defense played lights out.”

The Warriors allowed only 169 yards of total offense. Andrew Brookens led the assault with 10 tackles. Matz and Whiteman added nine and eight tackles, respectively.

Marion was powered offensively by Smith, who was 7 for 11 for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 18 yards.

Only a week before the game, Smith was inserted as the team’s starting quarterback after Clayton Chamberland injured his hand.

Thierolf said he wasn’t surprised by Smith’s solid play.

“He did what he was suppose to do, what you expect a senior to do and that’s to lead the offense,” Thierolf said. “He’s a little different quarterback than Clayton and he just did a really nice job hitting the receivers that were open.”

The receiving corps was lead by Jason Matz who had two catches for 53 yards.

Marion’s talented receivers were an integral part of the Warriors’ success, according to Thierolf.

“When the ball is up in the air they’re going to go for it,” Thierolf said. “Jared did a good job getting the ball to them and we were pretty pleased.”

Although the Warriors rushed for 173 yards on 39 carries, Thierolf didn’t think his team’s running game excelled against Minneapolis.

Marion was paced by Whiteman, who had 60 yards on 11 carries followed by Boone with 57 yards on 15 carries.

Overall, Thierolf is optimistic about his team’s future.

“We’re so young we’re just going to get better,” Thierolf said.

This Friday, the Warriors will travel to Assaria to face Southeast of Saline at 7 p.m.

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