ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
From the opening kickoff of the Marion-Lyons game Friday, the sound of helmets colliding signaled this would be a hard-hitting contest.
When the final second was spent, it was Marion who had survived the 14-7 Mid-Central Activities Association brawl.
It wasn’t a pretty win for the Warriors, who improved to 3-1. But it counts the same as all the others in the victory column.
“A win is a win is a win,” said a relieved coach Grant Thierolf. “This coaching staff has been in so many games like this-we’ll never be upset with a win.
“We have things to work on, but we’ll celebrate a win because they don’t always come around.”
The Warriors’ opening drive proved to be a microcosm of the entire evening. Marion controlled time of possession and field position, but points were hard to come by.
After Casey Nelson returned the kickoff to the Warrior 42-yard line, Marion took more than five minutes off the clock with a 10-play drive. But the drive stalled when the Warriors ran out of downs on on the Lyons 25-yard line.
“We knew their defense was sound,” Thierolf said. “They do some things differently that we don’t see from any other teams.”
On Lyons’ first play from scrimmage, a botched handoff bounced off the turf and into the arms of Marion’s Josh Smith at the Lions’ 30-yard line.
Marion began moving toward the end zone, but eventually found itself facing a fourth-and-goal at the Lyons’ 20-yard line.
But quarterback Josh Kelsey found Smith in the corner of the end zone, and the burly receiver muscled the ball away from the Lions’ defender for a touchdown with just 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Josh (Smith) did a nice job of looking away and Josh Kelsey did a nice job of looking away,” Thierolf said. “Smith just made a great play and a great catch.
“He’s a big, strong physical receiver and it’s his senior year and he ought to be making plays like that for us,” he added. “That was a big-time play.”
But the extra-point kick sailed wide right and the Warriors led 6-0 on the strength of its 12-play, 30-yard drive.
After Lyons returned the kickoff to its own 35-yard line, time permitted just one more play in the quarter. The Lions ran just two offensive plays the entire first 12 minutes, but trailed by just six points.
The second quarter turned into a game of field position.
Lyons punted the ball twice while turning it over once. Marion punted twice and lined up for a third attempt when trouble erupted.
Facing fourth-and-2 from its own 45-yard line, punter Smith bobbled the snap and Lyons took over on the Warrior 43 with just 1:11 left in the half.
Lyons reeled off nine plays in the last minute, converting a fourth-and-10 and a third-and-10 along the way.
With the ball at the 4-yard line and just four seconds remaining, Russell Ploutz knocked down a pass in the end zone to preserve Marion’s 6-0 lead.
The second half began much like the first, with the Warrior defense coming up with another big play. This time is was Michael Brookens who recovered a Lion fumble on the Lyons 18-yard line.
Once again the Lyons defense was stout, but not stout enough as Marion covered the 18 yards in eight plays.
Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line, Kelsey wiggled into the end zone for another Warrior score.
Kelsey threw to David DeForest for the 2-point conversion, and Marion led 14-0 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
“We knew coming in to this game it would be low scoring,” Thierolf said. “We knew there wasn’t going to be anything pretty about it because both offenses have struggled at times this year.”
“Sometime you have to win those games when you don’t look so good, just like sometimes you have to make a sale at work when you don’t feel so good.
“There’s a lot to be said about just showing up.”
Marion’s defense remained staunch and the Warriors took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter. But a double dose of disaster would soon strike.
On the first play of the period, Kelsey threw to Ploutz, but the ball glanced off the receiver’s hands and into the arms of Lyons’ Aaron Rose, who returned it to the Warrior 15-yard line.
On same the play, Warrior standout Tyson Heidebrecht rolled out of bounds, suffering an undetermined leg injury relegating the senior to the bench the remainder of the contest.
Lyons tried unsuccessfully to run the ball three consecutive plays, and faced fourth-and-6 from the 10-yard line.
That’s when quarterback Alex Reed hit Clint Bieberle in the flat, and the junior running back slid through an attempted tackle and into the end zone.
Following the extra-point kick, the Lions where within a touchdown at 14-7 with 9:46 remaining.
But Marion’s offensive line proved why it was cited as a preseason strength by the coaches.
After a holding penalty on the kickoff forced Marion to start on its own 14-yard line, Marion proceeded to march to its own 41 with a 10-play drive that drained the clock to the 3:27 mark.
Even though the Warriors eventually had to punt, Smith’s kick backed up Lyons to its own 28-yard line.
“That drive was without Tyson, too,” Thierolf said. “Those are things people don’t realize. They always wonder why we didn’t score, but football is a game of field position and a game of time because there are time restraints on the game.”
Two plays into Lyons’ drive, Dale Vogel swatted a Reed pass into the air and grabbed the ball for a Warrior interception.
The play appeared to seal the fate of the Lions, but just as quickly the momentum reversed when Lyons recovered an errant Warrior pitch with 2:22 on the game clock.
But Lyons sealed its own fate with an offensive pass interference call, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that left them facing a second-and-36.
The Warrior defense held, and four kneel-downs drained the clock and gave Marion the win.
The Warrior defense allowed only 34 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“I thought our defensive line played great,” Thierolf said. “Lyons has some good runners for us to do that…and our inside linebackers are starting to realize what their responsibilities are, and that’s making us better.”
Nelson led Marion with 71 yards on 28 carries as the Warriors had just 127 yards of total offense compared to 112 for the visitors.
With the win, Marion improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in MCAA play.
“The biggest thing is we came out of here with another win,” Thierolf said.
“It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but we ain’t giving it back.”
Coming-This week Marion hosts Ellinwood for homecoming. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
“They’ll be the best team we’ve played by far,” Thierolf said. “But we’ll play them, we’ll have a good scheme and we’ll do the best we can.”