ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Marion used sheer determination to defeat Southeast of Saline Friday on the road, 19-14.
After being dominated physically by the SES offense on the Trojans’ initial drive of the night, the Warriors drew upon a fire from within that wasn’t evident at the start of the game.
“We looked flat in the warmups and just got whipped on that first drive,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “There’s no natural rivalry between us and Southeast of Saline to get the juices flowing.”
After Marion punted on its first possession to start the game, the Trojans took over on their own 46-yard line-and scored four plays later, aided by Warrior personal foul and offsides penalties.
Matt Myers, a 200-pound junior who finished the night with 158 yards rushing before being injured, scored from one yard out.
The Trojans botched the extra point, but held an early 6-0 lead.
Undaunted, Marion came back with a 64-yard drive of its own. It concluded with a Josh Smith run of 10 yards to even the score. The extra point attempt sailed wide and the score remained tied, 6-6, with 5:10 to play in the quarter.
After an exchange of possessions by way of turnovers, Southeast started on its own 39-yard line with 4:51 to play in the first quarter.
Following another Myers run, quarterback Justin Schropps’ pass was intercepted by a leaping Tyler Stubenhofer, who returned the ball to the Warrior 48-yard line.
Making a conscious effort to hold onto the pigskin, the Warriors marched 52 yards in eight plays.
The big play of the drive was a third-and-10 pass from Clayton Chamberland to Casey Nelson for 23 yards, and settled the Warriors on the 16-yard line.
Chamberland powered his way into the end zone the final nine yards to give Marion a 12-6 lead, which increased to 13-6 with Steven Boone’s extra point.
But two plays into the second quarter, Myers broke several tackles and outraced the Warrior secondary for a 68-yard touchdown.
With a successful 2-point conversion, the Trojans regained the lead, 14-13.
Once more the two teams exchanged fumbles. When Marion failed to move the ball after its recovery, the Trojans took over on their own 37-yard line with 6:25 to play in the half.
Southeast failed to move the football, but Stubenhofer lost the handle on the Trojan punt, and Southeast recovered on the Warrior 46-yard line with 4:06 to play.
“We made a couple bad decisions, but I trust those kids to do what they do,” Thierolf said. “We ask a lot out of Riggs and Stubenhofer, and sometimes we ask so much of them they don’t get all the reps they need to on little things like fielding punts.”
What followed may have been the defensive stand the Warriors will point to as a turning point in the weeks to come.
Southeast of Saline launched nine plays before stalling. But a roughing-the-passer penalty on Marion breathed new life into the drive, and the Trojans took the ball to the Warrior 15-yard line with 42 seconds left in the half.
Facing third and six, Myers was forced out of bounds at the 5-yard line by Riggs, prompting Southeast of Saline to attempt a 22-yard field goal from a tough angle.
The kick sailed wide left and the Warriors remained within one point.
“It was huge not to let them score right at the end of the half,” Thierolf said. “Even if they had gotten three points, I think we’d have felt good about it.”
On Southeast’s possession to begin the second half, Riggs blasted through the right side of the line on fourth-and-13 and blocked his second punt in as many games.
“Calvin has a knack for getting in there and blocking punts,” Thierolf said. “I really believe there’s nothing that changes the course of a game faster than a blocked punt.”
Taking possession on the 28-yard line, an inspired offense line enabled Boone to power his way to a 19-yard touchdown, giving Marion a 19-14 lead with 7:54 to play in the third quarter.
Marion attempted a 2-point conversion, but failed.
A defensive stalemate followed, with neither team mounting a serious threat until Southeast took over with 1:23 to play in the third stanza. The Trojans held the ball the rest of the quarter and the first 6:07 of the fourth quarter, moving 51 yards in 14 plays to the Warrior 18-yard line.
But on fourth and seven, an incomplete pass from Schropp to Joe Rollins ended the Trojan drive.
The Warriors came right back with an apparent score of their own when, facing second and six from the 32-yard line, Chamberland faked the ball to his fullback and halfback, then flew down the sideline for an apparent 68-yard touchdown.
Unfortunately, the officials were fooled, too, and blew the play dead, giving Marion the ball at the approximate location when the whistle blew-which was the 45-yard line.
“We go into every game telling the officials we run the option and our quarterback is good at it,” Thierolf said. “Sometimes we don’t even know where the ball is.
“The officials just plain missed it, but no one is perfect,” he added. “It really worked out well, other than the fact Clayton lost a touchdown. But it kept our drive alive.”
The Warriors were able to power their way down the field, using up the remaining time on the clock to preserve the 19-14 win.
Thierolf praised his staff of coaches: Jerry Smith, Doug Dick and Mark Meyer.
“They did a great job of getting that defense ready to play,” he stated proudly. “When you fly around to the ball and get penetration, good things happen.
“We’re starting three new kids on that line, and they’re only going to get better and better throughout the year.”
In a balanced attack, Chamberland rushed 11 times for 66 yards, Boone 14 times for 64 yards and Smith three times for 47 yards on the way to 180 team yards on 35 carries.
Chamberland threw the ball 10 times, completing five for 61 yards.
The Warrior defense, after allowing 142 first-half rushing yards, allowed just 43 total yards in the second half.
The leading tackler for the Warriors was Jimmy Shipman with 10 first hits and three assists.
“I think the game came down to our front line dominating theirs from about mid-second quarter on,” Thierolf said. “I would have never guessed that would happen with the size of their kids.
“I told them I was proud of them and to enjoy the win until church on Sunday,” he added. “But the coaches will start thinking about Sacred Heart on the bus home.”
With the win, Marion heads into next week’s homecoming game with the undefeated Knights from Salina. Game time at 7 p.m.