ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
With the memory of last year’s 12-7 win over Minneapolis still lingering, the signs were there that Marion would have to fight for every inch it gained in Friday’s rematch in Marion.
But this time it was the visiting Lions who emerged with 21-19 win in a game which featured the running abilities of junior Ryan Mortimer and missed opportunities by the hometown Warriors.
Even with the disappointing loss, Marion coach Grant Thierolf was optimistic.
“It was a beneficial game for us,” Thierolf said. “We know a lot more about our team now than if we’d have played somebody that we beat 50-0.
“When you make the choice to play a good football team right off the bat, you find out where your team is and what you need to improve upon.”
Minneapolis scored first on the quick feet of Mortimer, who carried the ball the first seven Lions’ plays and gained 70 yards. That set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Crum to Ryan Wedel to cap the 87-yard drive.
The extra-point kick was good by Seth Prochaska and Minneapolis led 7-0.
Marion ran only four plays in its first possession-and for the rest of the quarter.
But Marion still managed to score when Calvin Riggs blasted through the line and blocked a Lion punt. Tyson Heidebrecht scooped up the ball and rambled 45 yards to score the first points of the season for the Warriors.
Steven Boone kicked the extra point to tie the game.
The teams traded punches the rest of the quarter and into the second quarter before the Warrior defense once again rose to the occasion.
With the Lions facing a second-and-14 at the Warrior 42-yard line, Josh Smith picked off a Lions pass and returned the ball 10 yards.
On the next play, Boone took the hand off and rumbled down the east sideline for a 50-yard gain and a first down at the Lion 10-yard line.
Three plays later, Clayton Chamberland punched the ball into the end zone to give the Warriors a 13-7 lead, which remained when the extra-point attempt failed.
Marion got the ball back with just over four minutes remaining in the half. Using a two-minute offense, the Warriors put together a 10-play drive that stalled on the Lion 11-yard line with just nine seconds in the half.
“At the half, we were up 13-7, but we should have had another touchdown on our last drive,” Thierolf said. “We missed a couple passes in the two-minute drill.”
Thierolf said the Lion offense kept his offense from establishing any continuity.
“In the first half, we were never allowed to get into any offensive rhythm at all,” Thierolf said. “Their offense controlled our offense by keeping possession of the ball.
“The blocked punt by Riggs and interception by Smith were big for us and changed the momentum, but we just didn’t move the ball effectively on offense.”
The second half began auspiciously when the Warriors fumbled the opening kickoff and the Lions recovered.
But Marion stiffened on defense and eventually took the ball back on downs at the Marion 20-yard line.
After a Warrior punt, Mortimer capped a 46-yard drive with a two-yard plunge into the end zone to tie the game. The extra point gave the Lions the lead, 14-13.
Tragedy once again struck the Warriors on their next possession when quarterback Chamberland mishandled the snap and Minneapolis recovered at the Warrior 20-yard line.
Seven plays later, Mortimer flipped a 14-yard half-back pass to Crum and Minneapolis, following another successful extra point, led 21-13.
Neither team scored again until late in the fourth quarter.
After Marion got the ball back on a Minneapolis punt, the Warriors launched a 60-yard scoring drive that took nine plays.
The drive culminated when Casey Nelson scampered 16 yards into the end zone to cut the lead to 21-19.
“Casey had a nice touchdown run,” Thierolf said. “When we say we have to get the ball distributed to other people who can make plays, Casey is one of them.”
Marion attempted a 2-point conversion, but failed, leaving Minneapolis with a 21-19 lead.
The Lions seemed to have the game under control as they ate time off the clock in their next possession.
But with 2:37 remaining in the game, Riggs intercepted another Lion pass, but his momentum brought him out of the end zone, giving Marion the football on the Lion 2-yard line.
Marion drove 58 yards to the Lion 40 with just under a minute remaining. But on fourth-and-six, Minneapolis’ Shane Donovan sacked Chamberland to seal the 21-19 loss.
“The biggest positive for us is that we battled back and gave ourselves a chance to win, even though we didn’t play particularly well,” Thierolf said. “We had a lot of kids who played very hard. We just didn’t play very smart.”
Mortimer displayed a variety of moves en route to a 200-plus-yards night on 31 carries.
“I don’t think we made good adjustments on defense all night long,” Thierolf said. “Mortimer was able to run without having to think about where he wanted to go.
“We never did make him change directions,” he added. “He was always running downhill.”
Boone, meanwhile, rushed 19 times for 129 yards, an average of 6.8 yards per carry.
As a team, the Warriors rushed for 161 yards and threw for 63.
Josh Smith caught two passes for 25 yards to lead the receivers.
Defensively, Boone led the way with seven first hits and seven assists, while Stubenhofer had five and four, respectively.
“Minneapolis is a better team than people think,” Thierolf said. “They had a good game plan that exposed some perimeter weaknesses on our part.
“We’ll get better there, though,” he added. “We did some things well, but we didn’t do enough things well to win.”
Coming-The Warriors will travel to Southeast of Saline Friday. Southeast defeated Smoky Valley last week 20-14. Game time is 7 p.m.