ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The record book will show Marion’s 14-7 homecoming victory over arch-rival Sacred Heart Friday night was no more important than any other.
But don’t tell coach Grant Thierolf and his squad this was just another game.
“Man, I love beating Sacred Heart,” said an elated Thierolf. “It feels good because it’s the first (Cottonwood Valley League) game of the season and it feels good because it’s one we knew we had to win.”
Using a dominating defensive effort in the second half, the Warriors stifled Sacred Heart’s offense for most of the night, allowing just 15 rushing yards for the entire game and just 147 total yards.
Marion jumped to an early lead as a direct result of their first defensive stand.
After Sacred Heart fumbled and recovered the opening kickoff, the Warrior defense smothered the Knights offense. Punting on fourth and 10, the snap from center whistled over the punter’s head, and the Warriors took possession on the Knight 2-yard line.
Clayton Chamberland scored a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, capping what likely will be Marion’s shortest and quickest scoring drive of the season with 10:31 remaining in the first quarter.
Steven Boone kicked the extra point and Marion took a 7-0 lead before many of the fans had a chance to warm their seats.
“It was big for us to jump ahead early,” Thierolf said. “It gave us some momentum.”
Sacred Heart took the ensuing kickoff back 20 yards and started their second drive in good field position on the 40-yard line.
But nine plays later, the Warrior defense stiffened and took over on downs at the Marion 30-yard line with 7:08 left in the quarter.
The dissection of the Knight defense that followed was enough to make any science teacher weep with joy.
With aerial distribution to three different players on the drive-the big one being a 28-yarder to Casey Nelson on third and nine-and mixing in the bruising running of Boone, the Warriors marched downfield with relative ease.
Tyler Smith eventually bullied his way across the goal line, capping the 70-yard 13-play drive which took 5:24 off the clock.
Boone kicked the extra point to make the score 14-0 and the large homecoming crowd roared its approval with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter.
But that would be last points scored by either team in the first half.
A Neil Waner interception thwarted a Knight drive which had reached the Marion 31-yard line, but a Warrior fumble on their next possession ended a Marion drive on the Sacred Heart 30-yard line with 6:40 to play in the half.
Sacred Heart drove back to the Marion 25-yard line, but the stingy defense held once again to give Marion the ball on downs.
The half eventually ended with Marion still on top 14-0.
After Marion opened the second half with a short drive, Sacred Heart took over and put together its only scoring drive of the night.
On second and 11 from the 29-yard line, quarterback Tyler Vishnefske hooked up with Brian Weiser for 48 yards, moving the ball to the Marion 23-yard line.
A personal foul for roughing the passer on third and eight at the 21 yard line kept the Knights’ drive alive.
Two plays later, Vishnefske connected with Jimmy McKee for a 14-yard touchdown strike to cap the nine-play drive.
Brahn Marrs’ extra point cut the Warrior lead to 14-7 with 5:10 to play in the third quarter.
The two teams traded possessions until Marion’s Tyler Stubenhofer signaled a fair catch on a punt at the Warrior 43-yard line with 7:35 to play in the game.
The Warriors then put together a 10-play drive that burned 4:49 off the clock and forced Sacred Heart to burn all of its three timeouts in the process.
“When we needed about four first downs and they were forced to waste all their timeouts, our offensive line was magnificent,” Thierolf said.
Marion eventually turned the ball over on a Chamberland interception in the end zone, giving Sacred Heart possession on the 20-yard line but with only 2:46 left in the game.
The Warriors dug in for one last defensive stand. After a procedure penalty on the Knights, Tyson Heidebrecht, Drew Looper, Jimmy Shipman and Jordan Trapp converged on Vishnefske for a sack of five yards.
Another incomplete pass brought up third and 20, setting the stage for Trapp to finish the game with another quarterback sack.
After Vishnefske’s fourth-down pass fluttered to the turf, Marion took over on the Knight 1-yard line. The Warriors took a knee three straight times to run out the clock.
“It wasn’t tough to sit on the ball at the end,” Thierolf said. “You don’t do that to people. We had the game won and we knew how much time we could run off the clock. We want our kids to always represent the school with as much class as we can.”
As usual, Boone was the workhorse for the Warriors, rushing the ball 24 times for 116 yards.
“This feels great,” Boone said. “We didn’t have any revenge on our mind. Our coach is a good coach and he doesn’t preach any revenge. We came out to prove we are going to win league.”
Chamberland completed seven of 16 passes for 98 yards and rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries.
“Clayton did a great job,” Thierolf said. “In our last drive, they knew we were going to go to one or two guys, but we played smart and took time off the clock.
“Then our defense did a great job in that last minute and we won the game the way you’re supposed to, with class.”
Marion gained 277 total yards, 179 of which came on the ground.
“Sacred Heart is a fine football team,” Thierolf said. “They’re well coached, they play hard and they do a lot of good things, but you know, our kids do too, we hope.
“It really came down to a battle of wills and our kids stayed in there and got things done.”
Defensively, the Warriors were led by Boone with eight first hits and three assisted tackles, including one for a loss.
With the victory, the Warriors improve to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the CVL. Sacred Heart dropped to 2-1 overall, but 0-1 in league play.
The Warriors will travel to Chase County on Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Bulldogs.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL