ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
In front of the host of faithful Marion fans decked out in red, white and blue, the Warriors celebrated homecoming with a 33-8 victory over the Haven Wildcats.
After Haven standout Isiah Barfield carried the opening kickoff to the Wildcat 30-yard line, he knifed through the Warrior secondary on the first play from scrimmage and appeared to score the first points of the game on a 70-yard dash.
Even though a block-in-the-back penalty against Haven cut the run in half and gave the Marion defense a moment to catch its collective breath, the next four downs were played with anxiety in the air.
Haven put the ball in Barfield’s hands on three consecutive plays, but the Warriors held their ground to bring to up fourth down with the ball on the home team’s 29.
A false start moved the ball back to the Marion 34, but only after Bryan Neinstedt’s pass fell incomplete did the home crowd exhale a sigh of relief.
After the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs, the Warriors mounted a 12-play drive to the Haven 27, where the march ended with a fourth-down incompletion.
But after Neinstedt fumbled away the ball on Haven’s first down, the Warriors wasted little time posting the game’s first score.
An 11-yard run by Austin Hager set up a Mitchell Leppke touchdown run with 1:09 left in the first quarter. Marion missed the extra point and led 6-0 when the quarter expired.
The second quarter began with Neinstedt tossing a 32-yard strike to teammate Jordan Drake to convert a third and 10.
A sack two plays later brought up a third and 18, and Neinstedt connected with Drake again-this time for 24 yards-as the Wildcats posted the second of their 7 total first downs.
“We knew they were capable of producing some big plays but we limited them pretty well,” Marion coach Grant Thierolf said. “For the most part we were pleased with the job the defense did.”
Warriors defensive back Calvin Jeffrey intercepted Neinstedt two plays later, and the defensive stop tipped the momentum back in Marion’s favor.
Thierolf’s team went back to work on the ground, running six more times before Hager slashed through the defense for a 55-yard touchdown run and a 12-0 lead with 5:13 remaining in the half.
After the teams traded posessions, Leppke broke into the Haven endzone for the second time and Kyle Hett added a 2-point converstion for a 20-0 lead.
Hett would finish with 133 yards and 26 carries of the team’s 383 yards and 68 carries.
“We were very pleased with the job the offensive line did,” Thierolf said. “Chase Williams, Hank Collett, Brett Billings, Jake Czarnowsky, Matt Thierolf, John Barr III and Emmanuel Jackson really came together well and opened big holes for (Hager) and (Hett).”
Marion’s first drive of the second half began at the 43-yard line, went for 16 plays-12 runs-and ended with Hager plowing into the end zone for his second score.
When Haven threatened to score on its next possession, Jeffrey snatched his second interception of the night, this one in the end zone, to stop the threat.
After Emmanuel Jackson scored from 12 yards out to make it 34-0 half-way through the fourth period, Jeffrey grabbed his third pick of the game.
“(Jeffrey) had great position all nightand they kept throwing at him,” Thierolf said. “His three interceptions are a combination of great pass rush and great anticipation.”
But after Jackson scored, and before Jeffrey slammed the door on Haven’s visit to Marion, Barfield ended the home team’s bid for a shutout by carving his way down the field for a 65-yard score. A 2-point conversion made the score 33-8 with 6:22 remaining.
If there was any uncertainty about the game’s outcome, Marion put all such doubts to rest by running off another 10-play drive that ended when Brauer fell short on a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 1:28 left.
On the night, Marion went 0-for-5 passing, but logged 383 on the ground for 23 first downs.
By comparison, Haven managed 233 total yards with turnovers. Barfield had 120 rushing yards on nine carries, caught a pass, threw an interception, fumbled twice, recovered a fumble, punted twice and returned a punt.
Coming-The Warriors go on the road to play the Hoisington Cardinals on Friday. Hoisington improved to 4-0 with a victory over Hesston. Kickoff is set for 7 pm.