ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
With Marion’s 35-0 win over the Wichita Independent Panthers Friday, the Warriors wrapped up the final Cottonwood Valley League championship.
“Winning the CVL has been one of our goals all year,” said an excited coach Grant Thierolf. “Marion won the first, 25th and 50th championship of this league, and we thought the 75th should be won by us, too.”
Marion wasted little time asserting itself. After holding the Panthers and forcing a punt, the Warriors took over at their own 48-yard line.
Seven plays later, quarterback Clayton Chamberland plowed the final yard for a touchdown with 8:53 to play in the first quarter, and the Warriors led 6-0.
The two teams swapped possessions and fumbles during the rest of the quarter.
Early in the second period, Marion took over on its own 10-yard line following a Panther punt.
A 10-play drive ended with what should have been a Warrior punt on fourth-and-25, but a miscommunication had Tyler Smith making a run for it. The run failed, giving Independent possession on the Marion 47-yard line with 8 minutes to play in the half.
“This was the most disjointed game I’ve ever coached, but we overcame that,” Thierolf said. “We had an early release on Wednesday and no school on Friday and kids are no different than anyone else. They like to get into a routine and it’s tough to get good concentration if you’re not in a good routine.”
The Warrior defense stepped to the forefront when Calvin Riggs picked off a Jeff Bloomer pass and raced 55 yards to the Independent 20-yard line.
Four plays later, Chamberland pounced on a Boone fumble in the end zone for a Warrior touchdown.
Chamberland then connected with Riggs for the 2-point conversion, and the Warriors could breathe a little easier at 14-0 with 4:32 left in the half.
“Calvin made a great play on the interception and got us going,” Thierolf said.
The wheels began to come off for the Panthers on their next possession. Starting at their own 19, the Panther’s were pushed back 10 more yards on a personal foul. On the next play, Neil Waner blasted through the line and crushed Bloomer on the 1-yard line.
Then Bloomer fumbled into the end zone, and Tyler Smith fell on the ball for a Warrior score with 3:10 to play in the half. Boone kicked the extra point, and Marion was suddenly on top, 21-0.
But the Warrior defense still wasn’t finished, forcing another Panther punt. This one was tipped by Clint Weber, giving Marion possession on the Independent 27-yard line.
Sensing its prey was struggling, Marion immediately went for the jugular. Chamberland hit Riggs down the sideline with a perfectly thrown 26-yard pass to the Independent 2-yard line.
Boone blasted into the end zone on the next play and Marion had blown open a close game. In a span of four minutes, the Warriors had changed a 6-0 game into a 27-0 rout.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, which featured several turnovers by each team.
“We fumbled quite a bit, but they hit hard,” Thierolf said. “But they’re a much better football team than they were last year. But we are, too.”
Independent recovered another Boone fumble on the Warrior 44-yard line to begin the fourth quarter, but the Panthers began to implode on their next drive.
A procedure penalty followed by a holding penalty, a 23-yard loss on a fumble and an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, had the Panthers facing fourth and 57 on the Warrior 4-yard line.
A punt followed, giving Marion excellent field position at Independent’s 37.
Five plays later, Boone crashed into the end zone from seven yards out to give Marion a 33-0 lead with 8:12 left in the game.
The defense added a safety late in the game.
For Boone, who went over 1,000 yards for the season, it was a night of tough running, as Independent keyed on the burly senior. But even with the added attention, Boone still managed to gain 97 yards.
“I thought Independent really had a good game plan against us,” Thierolf said. “They crashed down and were taking away Steven. Once we adjusted-and it wasn’t any great coaching, it was the kids adjusting on their own-I thought we did all right.”
Chamberland who sunk his teeth into the Panther defense to the tune of 121 yards rushing.
“Clayton had a big night,” Thierolf said. “That’s a great night for a quarterback.”
The Warrior defense, meanwhile, held the Panthers to just 22 yards of total offense, and minus-13 yards rushing.
“Our defense was outstanding all night,” Thierolf said. “They had a great receiver that we just shut down with no catches.”
Thierolf said Stubenhofer and Riggs did a “great job” on defense, and also credited his defensive line with applying quarterback pressure.
“It was just a great defensive effort,” he added. “This was a much better contest and much better opponent than we’ve had the past few weeks.”
With the win, the Warriors’ season mark improved to 6-1, and a perfect 5-0 in the CVL. It also marked the 100th career victory for Thierolf and his staff of 16 years.
Thierolf said it’s still a team sport.
“I’ve never thrown a block, caught a pass, or made a tackle,” he said. “I’ve had hard working players over those years that I credit these 100 wins to.
“I’ve also had great assistant coaches,” he added. “These kids work hard all year around to become good football players, and it’s just a matter of getting things organized.”
Making the win even more important was the fact it was the first round of district play for Marion.
But Thierolf said there’s still work to be done.
“We have to be able to throw the ball better than we have been,” he said. “Plus we need to cut down on our penalties.”
Coming-Next up for Marion will be a road trip to Leon, to battle Bluestem in the second round of district play next Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.