ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Dominance can be defined as commanding, prevailing or controlling over all others.
But if you ask Halstead coach Matt McKee, he’d probably show you a film of his team being dismantled by Marion on Friday night.
When the carnage ended, the Warriors had posted a 42-14 win over the Dragons, avenging last year’s 17-12 upset win by Halstead.
“I don’t know if last year was any extra motivation-no, I don’t think it was,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “But we learned from that game that you have to be ready every game and that we don’t have any off weeks. And we just responded to that.”
It started early. Jason Hett took the opening kickoff and raced 85 yards down the far sideline to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead only 14 seconds into the contest.
And it only got worse for the Dragons.
Following exchanges of possessions, Halstead took over on its own 21-yard line with 6:00 left in the first quarter. Two plays later, running back Aaron Howard fumbled and John Barr was there to recover at Halstead’s 25-yard line.
Less than a minute later, Casey Nelson burst into the end zone at the end of a 20-yard run and Marion owned a 14-0 lead.
On Halstead’s next possession, the Dragons faced a third-and-six from their own 39-yard line when Emmanuel Jackson sacked quarterback Austin Ratzlaff for an 11-yard loss.
Ratzlaff compounded his woes by spiking the football, prompting an unsportsman-like penalty to bring up a fourth-and-32.
After a short punt, the Warriors took over on the Halstead 36-yard line with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Marion overcame two motion penalties to score at the 1:22 mark on Josh Kelsey’s 11-yard dash. The extra point sailed wide left, but Marion led 20-0.
To Halstead’s credit, the Dragons answered with an eight-play drive-including overcoming a second-and-25-to score on a five-yard run by Justin Calvin to cut the lead to 20-7 with 7:00 left in the half.
Two minutes later, Kelsey lost the handle on a rollout and Florian Schnoor picked up the fumble and returned it to the Warrior 20-yard line.
Three plays later, Ratzlaff hit B.J. Bryant in the corner of the end zone from three yards out, and the once-prominent lead was whittled to 20-14.
After an exchange of possessions, Marion took over with just 1:35 remaining before half, looking to run out the clock.
But Nelson and his teammates had other ideas.
On the first play from scrimmage, the senior burst through the left side and weaved his way down the sideline for a 67-yard gain, placing the ball at the Dragon 7-yard line.
“The five guys up front did a nice job of blocking, but he made a lot of those yards on his own- although we had a lot of people throwing blocks downfield as well,” Thierolf said.
“The timing of his run was just such a tremendous thing for the momentum.”
With the Dragon defense still on its heels, Nelson ran three more times, culminating with a one-yard plunge into the end zone with just 25 seconds left in the half.
Nelson added the 2-point conversion run, enabling the Warriors to bounce into halftime leading 28-14.
“I thought the second quarter was pretty ugly,” Thierolf said. “But we finished it off strong, and the way you’d want to finish it, and took some momentum into the (second) half.”
It didn’t take long for Halstead to see the second half wouldn’t be any better than the first.
The Dragons fumbled away their opening possession with Kelsey there to recover the ball at the Halstead 33-yard line.
Three minutes later, Kelsey found David DeForest near the corner pylon for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 35-14 lead.
“That throw was about as good as you’ll ever find in high school football,” Thierolf said. “Dave did a nice job of staying in bounds and Josh just stood in the pocket and threw the ball right where it needed to be.
“That’s the way you hope it works when you draw the play up.”
Neither team scored again until Marion put together its most impressive drive of the season that carried the team into the fourth.
Kelsey set up the drive with an interception, giving Marion the ball on its own 12-yard line.
From there, Kelsey engineered a 12-play, 88-yard drive that was capped by Nelson’s third touchdown of the night, this one from four yards out.
Marion led, 42-14.
Thierolf said his team’s play in the second half gave indications of progress.
“Our perimeter run game was a whole lot better this week,” he said. “When we’re able to run the perimeter, then we’re able to run inside.
“We put together a couple of nice drives in the third quarter and I think our consistency on offense was the biggest thing we did.”
That consistency led to more than 300 yards of total offense-240 coming on the ground. Nelson led the way with 200 yards on 23 carries.
Through the air, Kelsey connected on five of nine passes for 61 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Warriors allowed 271 total yards, but Halstead coughed up the football four times on fumbles and twice on interceptions.
Even so, Thierolf said his defense needs to stiffen.
“We gave up way to many rushing yards, so we have to get some consistency on our run defense,” he said. “We’re going to get there. It’s not because of our effort, it’s because our kids are learning to play together inside.”
Michael Brookens led the defense with 14 tackles, 12 of them unassisted.
Kelsey, DeForest, Barr and Justin Anderson each recovered a fumble while Kelsey and Russell Ploutz intercepted passes.
“I feel better because we played better tonight, but those feelings can go away real fast if we don’t have a good week of practice,” Thierolf said. “That’s the beauty of football-it is the ultimate performance game. Friday nights are our accountability time.”
With the win, Marion improves to 2-0 for the season with a homecoming game with Sterling looming this Friday night.
“I know they are going to be physical, I know they are going to be fast-which scares me a little bit-and I know they’re going to be well coached,” Thierolf said of the Black Bears. “It’s going to be a tough football game.”