Marion ran into a buzz saw in its final game of district play Thursday, losing to a talented and physical Hesston squad that was state runners-up in Class 3A a year ago, 45-24.
Swather running back Parker Roth and quarterback Cameron Cox packed a punishing one-two punch, accounting for 326 of Hesston’s 377 rushing yards and bruising their way through the Warrior defense.
Hesston scored on every possession but two, including one in the fourth quarter with substitutions in the game.
The Swathers set the tone from the game’s first snap when Reese Nebel took the opening handoff down the right sideline 80 yards to the end zone. The touchdown was negated by a holding penalty, but a 50-yard run by Roth on the next play put the Swathers right back in Warrior territory. The 11-play drive culminated in a 6-yard touchdown run by Roth. Cox’s two-point conversion made it 8-0 Hesston.
Relying on its ground game, Marion found a way to answer, converting a key fourth-down to keep the drive alive in the red zone. The Warriors covered 68 yards in 14 plays, and Jack Schneider capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. Chase Stringer’s two-point conversion run tied the game at 8.
The quarter ended with the teams in a deadlock but with Hesston once again on the move. A touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter was negated by a block in the back penalty, but two plays later, Roth bulldozed his way to the end zone for a 23-yard score. The two-point conversion attempt failed, giving Hesston a 14-8 lead.
The elusive Roth slipped through the Warrior defense on the 10th play of Hesston’s next drive for a 12-yard touchdown with 2:34 left in the half, and Marion moved the ball to the Swather 45 before Cox intercepted a pass to end the half with Hesston in front, 22-8.
Evann Heidebrecht recovered a Swather fumble on the first play of the third quarter to put Marion at the Hesston 28. But Marion couldn’t capitalize.
Hesston, meanwhile, added a pair of third-quarter touchdowns, first on a 26-yard scamper by Roth, then a 28-yard run by Cox. By the end of the third quarter, Hesston’s lead had grown to 38-8, and the Swathers were in the red zone again, thanks to a punishing, 28-yard run by Roth two plays before the final break. Two plays into the fourth quarter, Cox scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 45-8.
Schneider found some running room on Marion’s next drive, and Stringer crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run, making it 45-16 with 8:27 to play.
After forcing a turnover on downs by Hesston’s second string, Marion pieced together one final scoring drive capped by Stringer’s 17-yard touchdown run. That brought it to the final, 45-24 margin.
Marion rolled up 305 yards of offense, including 294 yards rushing, led by Schneider with 13 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown. Stringer rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Coming—With the win, Hesston (3-0, 6-3) clinched the Class 3A District 12 championship and will face District 11 runners-up Hutchinson Trinity (2-1, 6-3) Tuesday.
Marion (2-1, 7-2) is district runners-up and will travel to District 11 champion Halstead (2-1, 4-5). Game times have not yet been released.
This marks the third year in a row the Warriors have ended the regular season with seven wins and two losses, but this is the first playoff berth Marion has secured since 2014.
For scores and updates during games, follow Janae on Twitter @janaerem13