Warriors rush to 32-14 victory over Ellinwood

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Balance is a good thing to have in your offense, but Friday night the Marion Warriors proved-at least for a single game-a team with a one-dimensional attack can be successful, too.

Marion rolled up 402 yards of total offense in its 32-14 defeat of Ellinwood-all of it on the ground. The total included 244 yards on 23 carries by Josh Kelsey and 158 yards on 20 carries by Casey Nelson.

“The story of the game goes to the offensive line,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “Josh is understanding the option better, and when you have a running back as good as Casey….”

“We’re still just getting there on offense, but obviously tonight was a huge step for us.”

It didn’t take long for the homecoming throng at Warrior Stadium to realize Friday night might be something special.

After Ellinwood’s wind-aided kickoff sailed into the south end zone, Kelsey faked a dive into the line and skirted the left side and found nothing but uninhabited real estate ahead of him.

Kelsey outran the Eagle defenders and crossed the goal line 80 yards later to give Marion a 7-0 lead just 14 seconds into the contest.

Ellinwood took over on its own 41-yard line. But six plays later, Jeffrey Richmond picked off a Bubba Anderson pass and the Warriors offense was back in business.

“Jeffrey’s done a nice job,” Thierolf said. “He’s a smart kid, as are all of our defensive backs-they should be getting better every game and they are.”

After picking up 18 yards and a first down, the Warriors were forced to punt into the teeth of a strong wind. Even with the powerful leg of Josh Smith, the kick traveled only 11 yards, giving Ellinwood the ball on its own 47-yard line.

From there, junior running back Josh Williams and his Eagle teammates traveled 53 yards in eight plays, knotting the score at 7 on a Jacob McCormack 8-yard run with 2:19 left in the quarter.

“Williams is a pretty good horse,” Thierolf said of the 6-foot, 190 pound back.

But the Warriors answered on their next possession, which carried them into the second quarter. Marion culminated a nine-play, 68-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown run by Nelson with 11:04 left in the half.

When Tyson Heidebrecht’s extra-point kick was blocked, Marion led, 13-7.

But Ellinwood didn’t earn a 3-1 overall record by playing dead. The Eagles took flight on their next possession, which began at their own 45-yard line. Riding the strength of Williams’ legs, Ellinwood covered the 55 yards in 10 plays-including nine carries by Williams-and scored on a Williams’ 3-yard run.

Jeff Steinert’s kick gave the Eagles a 14-13 lead.

Marion threatened to retake the lead at the end of the half, mounting a nine-play drive from the Eagle 12-yard line. But a fourth-and-8 pass from Kelsey sailed over the outstretched arms of Smith and the half concluded with Ellinwood on top by a point.

The Eagles racked up 168 yards rushing in the first two quarters.

The Warriors started the second half on their own 30-yard line. Facing third-and-7 from the 33, Nelson burst through the right side for a 32-yard gain.

“That run was huge,” Thierolf said. “He came up with big run after big run all night.”

From there, Marion marched downfield, aided by a Kelsey 26-yard run, and retook the lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by Nelson.

After the 2-point conversion failed, Marion held a slim 19-14 lead with 7:53 left in the third quarter.

Thierolf said Marion’s option offense was solid all night.

“We challenged our offensive line tonight,” he said. “We thought this game had two of the best running backs in the league, and we wanted to find who the best one was. That had to be determined by the offensive line and I thought we made our argument pretty well for Casey.”

Ellinwood tried to answer Marion’s score, but the Warrior defense was revitalized at halftime and forced an Eagle punt.

Kelsey then made one of his few mistakes on the next possession, fumbling the ball away at the Marion 31-yard line.

But even a personal foul on Marion for unsportsmanlike conduct couldn’t sustain the Ellinwood drive. The Warriors took over on downs, stopping Williams at the 4-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Thierolf said the defense in the second half was the best displayed this season.

“It’s just a matter of being young on defense that we haven’t seen that many repetitions,” he said. “Our kids are finally getting a feel for what we’re running.

“I thought our inside backers, Michael Brookens and Casey Nickelson, really played well in the second half.”

Following an exchange of punts, Marion took over on the Warrior 40-yard line with 8:32 to play.

From there, the Kelsey-Nelson show marched the ball downfield almost at will, scoring on Kelsey’s three-yard run with 4:05 to play.

The nine-play, 60-yard drive erased more than four minutes off the clock and staked Marion to a 26-14 lead.

On defense, the Warriors chewed up the Eagles, taking over on downs after Kyle Hett forced an errant pass on fourth-and-21 from the Eagle 40-yard line.

From there, Kelsey ran 5 yards and 35 yards to score with 1:55 to play, giving Marion a 32-14 lead.

Thierolf said Kelsey’s ability to make good decisions on the option led to his success.

“It’s Josh’s progression,” he said. “If you think about it, we’re asking him to make three major decisions in a four-yard path in a second and a half. To me, running the option is the hardest thing to teach a quarterback to do simply because of the time frame.”

After Ellinwood fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Marion was content to run out the clock and move to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mid Division of the Mid-Central Activities Association.

Thierolf said the 400-yards rushing was due to great blocking.

“Drew Looper, Tyson Heidebrecht, Michael Brookens, Casey Nickelson and Dale Vogel played well,” he said. “But Jeff Richmond, Josh Smith, Jason Hett and Russell Ploutz all blocked well tonight, too.”

Marion’s defense also rose to the occasion, holding the Eagles to under 50 yards in the second half.

“By far, this is our best game offensively and I thought the second half was our best defensively,” Thierolf said. “We didn’t really have an answer for them in the first half, but we penetrated well enough in the second half they never got going.”

Leading Marion’s defense were Brookens with eight tackles, Kelsey, Heidebrecht and Vogel with seven each and Nickelson with six.

“This game showed people can’t just shut down one of our backs,” Thierolf said. “We need to get our passing game better, but we felt comfortable running tonight and the wind was a factor.

“We still have some things to work on, but I was really pleased with our kids tonight.”

Coming-Marion faces its longest road trip of the season Friday night, as they venture to Barton County to face the Hoisington Cardinals. Hoisington is 2-3 overall and 1-1 in MCAA play.

“I don’t know a thing about Hoisington except they have some young kids who are pretty good,” Thierolf said. “I don’t even know who their coach is, but I do know it’s a long ways out there.”

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