Warriors workman-like in 34-13 win over Sterling

It wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Marion High School football team leaving Marion Stadium Friday carrying lunch pails and wearing hard hats.

Their attire would match the workman-like effort they displayed again Friday night during a 34-13 homecoming win over Sterling.

Coach Grant Thierolf said distractions are only distractions if you allow them to be.

“We don’t make a big deal out of homecoming, so the kids don’t either,” Thierolf said. “We play pretty well on homecoming. I don’t know what to attribute that to, but our kids do a good job of maintaining their focus.”

Although the offense sputtered in its first possession, the Warrior defense stopped the Black Bears on three plays that combined for an 11-yard loss.

Setting up shop on the Sterling 30 yard line, the Warrior offense scored in five plays, including a 5-yard burst into the end zone by Casey Nelson to put Marion on top, 7-0, with 5:12 left in the first quarter.

After Sterling was stopped in three plays, the Warriors mounted a 13-play, 62-yard drive that ended when quarterback Josh Kelsey pushed into the end zone to give Marion a 14-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter.

But Sterling briefly quelled the homecoming crowd when Steven Fankhauser grabbed the ensuing kickoff and raced 82 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7.

After Sterling forced the Warriors to punt, the Black Bears regained possession at their own 42-yard line.

But the Warrior defense stepped up and forced a Black Bear punt. This time though, Sterling had trouble handling the snap and Marion took over at midfield with 7:34 left in the half.

Nine plays later, Nelson juked his way into the end zone from five yards out to push the lead to 20-7; the kick sailed wide right.

Thierolf said Nelson improves every week.

“Casey moves the chains,” he said. “He’s steady and he’s learned to fall forward when he gets hit. He’s just one of the best-conditioned athletes we’ve ever coached. He’s becoming a complete running back.”

Sterling mounted one last first-half drive, aided by a face-mask penalty called from 30 yards away and a bizarre play that featured three fumbles and resulted in a 23-yard gain.

But the half ended with Sterling on the Warrior 15-yard line.

Thierolf said he was pleased with how his defense responded to the dangerous Black Bears.

“They just scare you,” he said of Sterling. “When they got off the bus, it was a funny thing to look at because they’re not very big. But we talked all week about contain and cutback lanes, and I thought we did a pretty nice job all night long.”

The second half began much like the first half ended as the Warrior defense forced an early punt.

Marion then mounted a nine-play drive that stalled on an incomplete on fourth-and-three at the Sterling 20-yard line.

But the Black Bears couldn’t stand prosperity, and coughed up the ball. Jeffrey Richmond pounced on the pigskin at the Sterling 31-yard line.

A Warrior fumble, two Marion penalties and a fourth-down conversion later, Nelson blasted across the goal line from one yard out to increase the lead to 26-7.

He added the 2-point conversion for a 28-7 lead with 43 seconds left in the third quarter.

Thierolf said good possessions on offense translated into good stands on defense.

“We ran almost 70 plays in this game-that’s as many as we had in the first two combined,” he said. “We put drives together and built first downs and were consistent.”

But Thierolf’s pleasure was tested early in the fourth quarter when Sterling’s Derek Thompson took a second-and-eight handoff and raced 68 yards for a score that cut the lead to 28-13.

Although shorthanded on the extra-point attempt, the Warriors stopped the 2-point conversion to maintain its 15-point advantage.

“(Sterling) got a couple of plays away, but they’re pretty good athletes and they’re very well coached,” Thierolf said.

“Overall, though, I was pleased. I thought our defensive ends did a much better job this week against a very dangerous team.”

Marion quickly answered Sterling’s touchdown run by driving 64 yards in seven plays. Kelsey capped the possession with a 12-yard burst up the middle to put Marion on top, 34-13, with four minutes remaining.

Marion’s offense was taking what the defense allowed, said Thierolf.

“We knew that Casey would pretty much be a focal point, but we also knew we wanted to get the ball into Jason Hett’s and David DeForest’s hands,” the coach said. “But Josh has the leeway to take off and run on his own.”

Kelsey said the defense practically invited him to run the quarterback keeper.

“Sometimes they were blitzing linebackers, but most of the time they were standing up outside or head up on our guards, so there was a wide open hole there,” Kelsey said.

Marion stopped the final Black Bear drive of the night, preserving its 34-13 victory.

Nelson led the Warriors with 124 yards on 28 carries, giving the running back 396 yards in his first three outings.

Kelsey added 84 yards on 17 carries and DeForest 51 yards on eight carries.

Kelsey completed five of 12 passes for 84 yards.

“I thought Josh made a couple of great throws tonight where he just threw the ball away,” Thierolf said. “That’s a sign of a mature quarterback-knowing when it’s open and when it’s not.”

Marion’s offense ran 69 plays compared to just 33 for Sterling and had 359-157 advantage in total yards. Sterling managed only three first downs.

Michael Brookens led the defense with eight tackles. Casey Nickelson added seven andJohn Barr six.

With the win, Marion moves its season mark to 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 89-27.

“I think we’re more confident (than we were at this time last year) but we’re still in the process of learning to play together,” Thierolf said. “I think we took some steps toward that tonight.”

Coming- Marion heads to Lyons (0-3) Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff. “I don’t know much about Lyons, but I do know they’re tough and they have some good, physical kids,” Thierolf said. “I know they have a great wide receiver in (Kevin) Sechrist.”

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