ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
Behind the nimble running of seniors Jared Smith and Robert Verbic-and a with a little help from up-and-coming junior Jarvis Whiteman-the Marion Warriors rolled up 552 yards on offense to derail Herington 41-18 and claim the Cottonwood Valley League championship.
Marion jumped to an early lead with a five-yard touchdown run by Smith, who initially was stopped short of the goal line, but with second-effort dove over the goal line.
Alex Saxonis missed the extra point, but Marion led, 6-0.
With 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Smith again found the end zone for Marion, pounding the ball in from three yards out.
Smith then hit a wide-open Jason Matz for the 2-point conversion and Marion took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.
The second quarter might be a preview of good things to come for the Warriors next season, as Whiteman rambled for a 40-yard touchdown in the middle of the period and an 83-yard scoring run with 1:42 left.
Saxonis added the point-after kick after Whiteman’s first touchdown and senior Octavio Quijas converted his only attempt of the season after the second score to give the Warriors a 28-point pad heading into the locker room at halftime.
The third quarter looked much like the first half as Smith busted into the end zone through a host of Railer defenders at the 9:54 mark. Saxonis added the extra point and Warriors were up, 35-0.
The game only got worse for the Railers. On the Warriors’ next possession, Robert Verbic ran 73 yards for another score. Marion failed on the PAT, but lead 41-0.
Herington would rattle off three touchdowns late in the game without converting a single extra point for the final 41-18 margin.
The win crowns the Warriors as the CVL champions. They ended their season with a 6-3 record overall and a 1-2 mark in district play after losing to both Hesston and Hillsboro.
“Our kids were pretty focused and intent on making sure we had the CVL championship by ourselves,” coach Grant Thierolf said.
“It’s a great way for our seniors to go out. They’ve really worked hard and I’m really proud of them.”
Smith finished his high school with a stellar performance. He carried the ball seven times for 122 yards and three touchdowns, passed for 43 yards and led the defense with 12 tackles, seven assists and one interception.
Whiteman carried the ball 10 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
The Warrior defense held the Railers in check, only allowing 282 yards total offense.
Thierolf complemented his team for their effort this season.
“I was pleased that we played hard all year,” he said. “I think we’re going to get there-and a lot of that is because our seniors started a good foundation and have set us up to be successful in the future. I think our kids are just going to get better and better.”