ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Marion football coach Grant Thierolf didn’t need a crystal ball or a set of tarot cards to predict how his Warriors would play on Friday night against Lyons.
All he had to do was watch practice during the week preceding the game.
What Thierolf witnessed was almost enough to send the 18-year coach to the pharmacy for insomnia relief.
“I haven’t slept worth a hoot all week long,” Thierolf said after the Warriors escaped winless Lyons, 14-6.
“It’s just human nature I think. If you think something is going to be easy, you don’t always take it as seriously as you should, and I think the kids didn’t believe Lyons could play with us.”
The game began on a high note for Marion when Lyons was assessed a 15-yard personal-foul penalty on the opening kickoff, placing the Warriors only 38 yards from the goal line.
But two incomplete passes and a one-yard run by Josh Kelsey left the Warriors facing fourth-and-9 and a punt.
After Marion’s defense thwarted the Lions on their initial possession, the Warriors once again took control of the ball, this time only 37 yards from pay dirt.
But five plays later, Casey Nelson was stopped on a fourth-and-three at the Lyons 12-yard line.
From then on, most of the first half was played between the 20-yard lines as neither team could penetrate the opposition’s staunch defense.
The Warriors relied on punter Jeremy Vondenkamp to keep the Lions pinned in their own territory.
“I thought Jeremy came out and punted the ball great all night long and that starts with a good snap from Michael Brookens,” the coach said. “Then we got good protection and Jason Hett and Emmanuel Jackson got down field and covered very well.”
With only three minutes left in a scoreless half, the Warriors appeared to get the break they needed when Vondenkamp blocked a Lyons punt, giving Marion the ball at the Lyons 23.
But the Lion defense was up to the challenge, stopping Nelson on fourth-and-4 from the 17-yard line.
After Marion forced another punt, a Warrior fair catch set up a mini drama as Thierolf called on kicker Paul Seifert to attempt a 53-yard field goal on a free kick. But the attempt fell short and the half ended scoreless.
Thierolf said his halftime message was simple: Seniors, either win this game or lose it.
“We told the seniors it was on them,” Thierolf said. “I don’t know if the pressure was necessarily on us or not, but we had to understand this was going to be a tough ball game.”
Lyons opened the second half with an 18-yard pass to all-league wide receiver Kevin Sechrist. But a bad snap out of the shotgun formation sailed over the head of quarterback Brett Higgins for a 28-yard loss.
But Jason Hett fumbled the ensuing punt, giving Lyons the ball at the Marion 45-yard line.
Two plays later Russell Ploutz picked off a Higgins pass. But just as quickly, Kelsey and Nelson misconnected on a handoff and Lyons recovered the ball at the Warrior 28.
Four plays later, facing a second-and-23, Higgins connected with Sechrist for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put Lyons on top 6-0 with 4:06 left in the third quarter.
The extra point kick was initially ruled good, but 12 players participated in the play for Lyons, prompting a 15-yard penalty and another kick attempt.
This time the ball sailed wide left, leaving the score at 6-0.
It wasn’t until the final play of the third quarter that Marion began to get its offense on track.
Beginning from the Lyons 44-yard line, Marion pieced together a 10-play drive, built primarily on the legs of Nelson, who had six carries. On the sixth one, he scored from seven yards out.
When Jeffery Richmond kicked the extra point, Marion took its first lead of the night, 7-6, with 6:54 to play.
Thierolf said the drive was a matter of his players doing what was expected of them.
“We came out and ran behind our two senior kids, Shawn (Britton) and Adam (Depler) and either Jeff (Richmond) or Russell (Ploutz) at tight end and Dave (DeForest) as the blocking back,” he said. “We didn’t make any secrets about what we were doing.”
Nelson said it might have come down to a battle of attrition.
“Our conditioning finally paid off in the fourth quarter,” he said. “They started to wear down and we really picked it up, so I feel like our depth was a definite factor.”
With its first lead of the night, Marion’s defense stepped up and forced a Lyons punt after three plays. A bad snap cost Lyons dearly as Marion regained possession on the Lions’ 27-yard line.
Two plays later, Nelson skirted the right side for a 27-yard touchdown. Suddenly, Marion was on top 14-6 at the 4:35 mark.
“We just started playing together better in the fourth quarter,” Nelson said. “We played the whole play on every play and the big guys started making great blocks that allowed me to make my reads.”
Lyons had one last-gasp drive, but a Jackson sack cost Lyons eight yards and forced a punt with 3:13 to play. The Warriors ran out the clock for a 14-6 win that improved their record to 4-0.
“Our team expects to win, but (Lyons) really just hoped they could win, I think,” Thierolf said. “I thought Lyons played awfully hard, but our kids just know how to win and did what was necessary to get that victory.”
After a slow start, Nelson finished with 155 yards on 25 carries, giving the senior 551 yards for the season.
Nelson said this year’s seniors know how to achieve success.
“Our job is to give it all we have because this is our last year to show everybody what we can do,” he said. “We just have to play hard on every play.”
Kelsey completed only one of 10 passes for four yards, but the Warrior defense limited Lyons to 107 total yards, including only 23 yards rushing on 39 carries.
Vondenkamp blasted four punts for a 38.5 yard average, keeping Lyons in poor field position.
Brookens once again led the defense with 14 tackles (eight unassisted) while Depler added eight stops and DeForest 11.
For the season, Marion has yet to allow the opposition to score in either the first or fourth quarter while scoring 69 points itself.
“The bottom line is the kids know how to win and they made enough plays when they needed to make plays to get the job done,” Thierolf said.
Coming- Marion is back on the road Friday, with a 7 p.m. kick off at winless Ellinwood.
“I know they have some very good individual players,” Thierolf said. “They have good size and they’re physical, but we’ll be much better prepared to play next week.”