The Marion Warriors took another dominant step toward the state-playoffs Friday with a 44-12 win over Hillsboro at Joel Wiens Stadium.
For the under-manned Trojans, it was another case of staying within reach of their opponents in the first half, but wearing down in the second half for a lopsided loss.
The best news for the Trojans was the return of Kaden Kleiner at quarterback after sitting out two games with an injury. But even that was a partial boost, given the strong south wind that made the Trojan passing game difficult for two of the four quarters.
Marion, meanwhile, was all but oblivious to the wind with their strong commitment to the ground game.
Neither team moved the ball consistently in the early going, but Marion changed that trend on the Warriors’ second possession. Starting at the Hillsboro 38 after a short Trojan punt into the wind, the Warriors penetrated the end zone seven plays later when quarterback Chase Stringer slipped through the middle of the line for a 6-yard touchdown run at the 1:42 mark of the first quarter. A 2-point conversion run put Marion in front, 8-0.
The Warriors scored on their next two possessions to take a 22-6 lead into the halftime locker room. Stringer scored a second touchdown on a 9-yard run with 3:58 left in the half. Corbin Wheeler added the 2-point conversion run for a 16-0 cushion.
When Hillsboro went three-and-out in their ensuing possession, Wes Shaw punted into the end zone for a touchback. With the ball on the Marion 20, Evann Heidebrecht ran 79 yards before he was brought down at the Hillsboro 1-yard line. Stringer, however, scored on the next play. The Trojans stopped Heidebrecht’s 2-point conversion run for a 22-0 score with 2:09 left in the half.
With the wind at his back in the second quarter, Kleiner fueled the Trojan attack through the air, hitting five of his six attempts. When Marion was penalized for unnecessary roughness deep in Warrior territory, Kleiner found Jacob Funk in the end zone on the next play for a three-yard score with 18 second remaining. Kleiner’s 2-point pass was unsuccessful, and the 22-6 lead carried into halftime.
Hillsboro’s second half fade started almost from the start. Marion took the kickoff and drove 69 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 29-yard run by Wheeler. Stringer’s 2-point run made the score 30-6 with 7:16 left in the quarter.
Hillsboro received possession, but was forced to punt after five plays. Shaw’s wind-aided kick turned into another touchback — and another Marion possession at their own 20. This time, Stringer ran through the middle of the line like a hot knife through butter. The junior didn’t cool down until he completed the 80-yard touchdown at the 5:23 mark. A Warrior fumble on the 2-point attempt kept the score 36-6.
The slide deepened when the Trojans allowed Marion to recover the ensuing kickoff, giving them possession at the Trojan 40. Two running plays moved the ball to the 28-yard line. From there, Stringer executed Marion’s only pass of the game — against the wind, no less — into a touchdown reception for Zachary Stuchlik with 4:09 left in the third quarter. The 44-6 margin kicked in the running clock for the rest of the contest.
The Trojans scored the last touchdown of the game on a 9-yard pass from Kleiner to Darian Ratzlaff. The 2-point pass to Funk failed, for the final 44-12 margin.
Marion (7-1 for the season and 2-0 in district play) can nail down the Class 3A District 5 championship next Thursday when the Warriors host Hesston. Hillsboro (1-7, 0-2), meanwhile, will complete its season next Thursday at Southeast of Saline.