ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
From the onset of Friday’s football game against Minneapolis, the Marion Warriors showed signs of first-game jitters, But by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Warriors looked like a team poised for a run at a state championship.
Marion put together a late-game defensive stand and a solid running game to win their season opener against Minneapolis, 12-7, even though the Lions racked up 23 more yards on the night.
After the game, Marion coach Grant Thierolf talked about the obstacles that made the win so much more enjoyable.
“I’m awfully proud of our kids,” Thierolf said. “With a two-hour bus trip in 95-degree weather, and trying to keep the kids hydrated, I thought our kids played really hard considering the circumstances. It was just a good overall team win.”
Initially, the Warriors and Lions struggled offensively, as both team’s defense took center stage.
On the first play from scrimmage. Minneapolis coughed up the ball on their 18-yard line and Jason Matz started his senior campaign with a fumble recovery.
But the Warriors couldn’t connect on their first offensive series and were forced to punt.
The Minneapolis running game took off when Jake Gaiwith exploded for a 32-yard touchdown run on an inside counter play at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter. With the extra point, the Lions led 7-0.
The Warriors strung together a balance of running plays in their next possession, but subsequently were forced to punt.
Minneapolis rattled off three plays and then was blocked on a punt attempt, setting up prime field position for the Warriors with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter.
Jarvis Whiteman entered the end zone for Marion’s first score of the season with a 2-yard run. Marion failed to convert the extra point and trailed 7-6 at quarter’s end.
Both teams were virtually silent offensively in the second quarter.
The Warriors appeared sluggish at the start of the third quarter as quarterback Clayton Chamberland fumbled the snap and the Lions recovered it.
On a critical fourth-and-short, the Warriors held the Lions by a few links of the chain to regain possession of the ball with 7:21 left in the quarter.
Still trailing by one, the Warriors’ running game began to show signs of life. Whiteman and Steven Boone blasted their way down the field with help from a Chamberland 18-yard pass to Matz.
With just under a minute remaining in the third quarter, Chamberland snuck in from one yard out to give the Warriors a 12-7 lead. The 2-point conversion attempt failed.
The Warriors and Lions traded possessions in the final quarter until Minneapolis took over with just under five minutes to go.
The Lions appeared destined to regain the lead, marching down the field and converting a critical fourth-and-three with 1:30 remaining.
But with 31 seconds left, Tyler Smith and Boone combined for a hit on the Minneapolis quarterback that left took him out of the game.
When play resumed, the Lions ran three pass plays with little success. On fourth down, Smith penetrated the offensive line and sacked the quarterback for the final play of the game, preserving the 12-7 win.
Matt Rhodes and Matz led the Marion defense with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Matz also had a sack, fumble recovery, interception and blocked kick.
“This win felt good,” Matz said after the game. “It was a good win against a tough team.”
The Warriors racked up 172 yards on 43 plays. Boone led the Warrior rushers with 90 yards on 20 carries. Chamberland made his starting varsity debut as quarterback completing three of eight passes for 43 yards.
Coming-The Warriors will play host to Southeast of Saline Friday. The Trojans defeated Smoky Valley in their opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.