ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Having the tendency not to follow one’s tendencies can be advantageous.
Last week the Warriors had more than 400 yards of total offense-all of them rushing.
So who could blame the Hoisington Cardinals for beefing up the defensive line to thwart the Marion running game.
“I think they definitely watched film on us,” coach Grant Thierolf said after his Warriors literally passed by the Cardinals, 25-7 at Hoisington.
“If you look at our last two games throwing the ball, we were 4-for-9 for 30 yards, so I’m sure they didn’t think we could throw the ball effectively.”
But Marion quarterback Josh Kelsey proved them wrong, going 5-for-12 for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
Even so, the Warriors racked up 197 rushing yards for good measure.
After an exchange of possessions to start the game, the Warriors went to work on their first scoring drive of the night.
Workhorse Casey Nelson was the primary instigator, rushing eight times in the drive that began at the Hoisington 37-yard line.
Facing third-and-goal from the eight, Kelsey hooked up with senior Josh Smith for the first of three touchdown connections between the duo.
Tyson Heidebrecht’s extra-point kick was blocked, but with 3:54 on the clock, the Warriors led 6-0 on the strength of the 10-play, 37-yard drive.
After the defense forced another Cardinal punt, the Warriors took over on their own 5-yard line.
Going back to the air, Kelsey hooked up with Smith for 10 yards and with Jeff Richmond for 48 yards, and the Warriors were knocking on the door again.
Nelson eventually crossed the goal line on a three-yard run with 9:32 left in the half, capping a 11-play, 95-yard drive. Kelsey’s 2-point-conversion pass fell incomplete, but Marion led, 12-0.
Thierolf said his team’s invigorated passing attack resulted from several factors.
“Our linemen and their pass protection did a whole lot better, and Kelsey showed what he’s capable of doing, throwing the ball.
“We challenged our wide receivers and slot backs to start picking up their part of the offense and they responded well,” he added. “I thought Josh Smith made some great catches and Jeff Richmond made a nice catch, too.”
A nice return on the ensuing kickoff gave Hoisington the ball on the Marion 47-yard line.
Following a seven-yard loss on the Cardinals’ first play, quarterback Jake Deutsch hooked up with Trevor Beiberle for a 54-yard scoring pass to slice the Warrior lead to 12-7 at the 8:32 mark.
“We’re trying to play some young kids there, and they have to realize their responsibilities to the team to do what they can do to let our starters to get a breather and get some water and Gatorade back in them,” Thierolf said about the kickoff return.
The teams traded possession before Marion took control of the ball on its own 44-yard line with 3:10 left in the half.
Eight plays later, Hoisington’s prevent defense committed a Cardinal sin as Kelsey found Smith in the clear and fired a strike for a 34 yard touchdown with just 46 seconds left in the half, giving Marion an 18-7 advantage.
Neither team mustered much offense early in the third quarter. After Marion stopped the Cardinals at the Warrior 28-yard line, Marion mounted a seven-play drive highlighted by Kelsey’s 41-yard sweep around the right side.
Kelsey capped the drive with a 23-yard scoring pass to Smith, staking Marion to a 25-7 advantage with 0:56 left in the third quarter.
Marion’s stingy defense, coupled with the relentless running by Nelson, consumed the fourth-quarter clock and ensured Marion’s win.
Nelson finished with 129 yards on 28 carries.
“Casey Nelson is a mentally tough kid,” Thierolf said. “He really is a tough kid who is a gentleman, a 4.0 student and he’s a great example of what you hope all your high school athletes are like-and we’re lucky to have a lot of kids like that.”
Thierolf said his team’s ability to diversify its attack was key to the victory.
“We still ran the ball effectively with almost 200 yards, and then throw in 130 passing yards-that’s not bad distribution,” he said. “We started stretching it downfield, and I think that’s something we were reluctant to do earlier in the year.
“We started using a little more play action and the kids made great throws, great catches and great protection.”
Marion allowed Hoisington just 47 yards rushing on 27 carries and 128 yards on 8-for-17 passing.
“Hoisington has a reputation for being physical, and I was most happy that we matched them physically,” Thierolf said. “That’s one thing you always worry about as a coach-will we be able to match them up front or will we get manhandled. But I thought we were very physical and tackled pretty well.”
Marion’s defense had several key contributors.
Leading the way was Michael Brookens and Adam Depler with six tackles each, while Heidebrecht and Casey Nickelson each recorded five tackles and Drew Looper had four tackles and two quarterback sacks.
Jeff Richmond was stellar in the defensive secondary with two big interceptions.
With the win, Marion improved to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in Mid-Central Activities Association play, assuring them of at least a tie for the Mid Division championship.
“We told the kids to feel happy because it’s an important achievement the first year in the league,” Thierolf said. “But at the same time, we’ve gotten to the point where we like league titles, but we really love district titles and that’s where our focus has to be.”
Coming-Marion begins district play at 7 p.m. Friday by hosting state-ranked and undefeated Southeast of Saline, who is coming off a 74-3 victory over winless Ellsworth.
“Pat Haxton (SES coach) and I are great friends,” Thierolf said. “I love coaching against him and our kids and I have a blast every time we play one another.
“It’s just going to be fun-there’s no other way to describe it,” he added. “They’re multiple in that they have a strong defense, they run well, throw well and they’re very balanced.
“We hope we resemble them with our diversity,” Thierolf said. It should be a great game Friday night.”