Marion falls to tougher Halstead squad to open season

With 12 returning seniors on their roster, the Halstead Dragons came into Marion considered to be one of the top teams in Mid Division of the Mid-Central Activities Association.

Even so, their 34-6 defeat of the 2005 division champions Marion Warriors should open some eyes around the league.

Kyle Hett gathered in the opening kickoff for Marion and rumbled for the first of what would be three big kick returns on the night.

Despite the good field position, the Halstead defense was equal to the task and forced the Warriors offense into a three-and-out.

Halstead put its first possession in the hands of 5-feet-10-inch, 185-pound wrecking ball Justin Calvin, but the Warrior defense earned its first stop of the night.

Having forced the Dragons to punt, Marion looked to have momentum on its side when the Halstead defense came up with the game’s first turnover.

A running play went awry when Warriors running back Austin Hager lost the ball while being tackled.

Momentum swung to the Dragons, who gained three first downs en route to posting the game’s first score on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior Luke Thibault.

If Thibault’s touchdown quieted the crowd, Kyle Hett’s 90-yard return of the ensuing kickoff brought Warriors’ fans to their feet and lit up the scoreboard with Marion’s first touchdown of the season.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the special-teams unit squandered the chance to score the season’s first extra point, and the quarter would end with Halstead up 7-6.

But on the last play of the first quarter, Marion’s chances at mounting a comeback took a big hit when defensive back and quarterback Jason Hett collided with a Halstead running back and had to be helped off the field.

The second quarter began with Halstead’s running game picking up three consecutive first downs before Calvin punched in a 7-yard run for Halstead’s second score.

The game turned on the inability of the Warrior offense to move the ball.

The Marion offense took the field down by eight points with 7:39 left in the half, but a botched snap resulted in a turnover.

With the outcome still very much in doubt, the Warriors looked to be on their way to earning their second defensive stop when defensive end Emmanuel Jackson exploded into the backfield and dragged Halstead quarterback Austin Ratzlaff down nine yards behind the line.

Following a three-yard run by Calvin, Ratzlaff ran for eight yards on third down.

With Halstead opting not to kick on fourth down, Ratzlaff ran for nine yards, giving the Dragons a first down on the Marion 19.

The Warrior defense rallied following a timeout by coach Grant Thierolf, and came up with a takeaway in the red zone.

But the offense sputtered again: a penalty and a dropped pass led to punt.

The tired Marion defense did not hold its ground and Thibault’s second score broke the game open just before time expired to end the first half.

The second half was dominated by Halstead as the Dragons added two more touchdowns on runs by Ratzlaff and Calvin.

Calvin finished with 96 yards on 15 carries and two scores.

Ratzlaff had 20 passing yards, completed both his pass attempts and added 97 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

The Dragons totaled 316 rushing yards as a team while holding the Warriors to 55.

In addition to scoring all of Marion’s points, Kyle Hett gained 155 total yards for the Warriors, 135 of which came on his three kickoff returns.

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