Warriors fall to undefeated Garden Plain in bi-district play-offs

The advantage of size and strength proved too much for the Marion football team tonight, as they absorbed a season-ending loss at Garden Plain in the bi-district play-offs, 49-14. Marion finishes its season with a 4-6 overall record, splitting the final four games of the year, while the Owls improve to 10-0 and are slated to face off with Conway Springs in the next round of play-offs. 

Marion hung in with the big boys for the first half, making a statement with a drive-ending red zone fumble recovery on Garden Plain’s first possession of the game. ‘We aren’t going to just roll over and go home,’ the Warriors seemed to say. ‘We’re here to play.’ 

But the Owls wouldn’t make it easy on them, intercepting a pass from Marion quarterback Zac Robson near midfield to halt any plans of scoring off the Garden Plain turnover. The Owls marched downfield and Garden Plain’s Dylan Clark escaped for the 27-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes left in the first quarter.

After a Marion three-and-out, Garden Plain once more pounded up the middle and took advantage of a Warrior facemask penalty to put together a 58-yard touchdown drive, capped by another scoring scramble from Clark with 12 seconds remaining in the period. 

The undersized Warrior defense could find no answer for the Owls to begin the second quarter, as Garden Plain took over on downs at its 31-yard line and drove downfield. Ethan Balestucci scooted in from five yards out to put the Owls up, 21-0, at 6:08 after the Troy Puetz PAT kick. 

Robson and senior running back Brody Carroll teamed up on the Warriors’ next possession to spark a drive that would finally put points on the board. Carroll started things rolling with a return to the Marion 37 and another scramble moments later into Garden Plain territory on the 44-yard line. Then Robson took over, shooting the gap and running to the Owl 28. In a true team effort, the Warriors pulled out a trick play used earlier in the season with great success. Robson pitched the ball to running back Caleb Williams, who reversed and lateraled it to senior wide receiver Jacob Harper. Putting a strong baseball pitching arm to good use, Harper lofted the ball 27 yards into the waiting hands of James Jones for Marion’s first score at 3:34. An extra point from Grif Case made it 21-7. 

But the Owls had an answer. On the second down of the next possession, Garden Plain quarterback Caleb Arnold got away from the Warriors and ran 70 yards for a touchdown with two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the half. 

The Warriors got back up from that punch in the gut, though. Robson and Carroll once more joined forces to gain yards on the ground as the clock wound down. In two-and-a-half minutes of play time, Marion converted for three first downs and received another on a pass interference call. On a second-and-five, Robson hit Harper with a strike up the middle into the end zone for the score with just eight seconds left. They went into the locker room trailing Garden Plain, 28-14. 

Unfortunately for Marion, the Owls came out in the second half and played lights-out. Shutting down the Warriors with a four-and-out on their first possession, Garden Plain proceeded to power downfield and score just four minutes into the third period on a Balestracci run. 

The Warriors drove into Garden Plain territory, but an interception on the Owl 10-yard line set up another Garden Plain score. Fullback Denver Doyle pounded away at the Marion defense and Balestracci sealed the deal with a two-yard scramble to make it 42-14 with two minutes remaining in the period. 

Robson ran for four first downs against Garden Plain in the ensuing possession, driving from the Marion 40-yard line, but a dropped hand-off on a fourth-and-goal with 10 minutes left robbed the Warriors of the score and gave the ball back to the Owls at the beginning of the final quarter.

Garden Plain scored its final points of the game minutes later, making it 49-14, as on the Owl’s first touch Arnold completed a long pass downfield to Michael Panek on Marion’s 32-yard line to set up a seven-yard touchdown run at 8:54 from Doyle. Marion could make no headway against the Garden Plain defense and remained scoreless in the final quarter.  

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