Hesston cuts through Warrior defense

Chase Stringer is chased by a pair of Swathers during the fourth quarter Thursday. Marion lost to Hesston, 45-24. Stringer carried the ball 22 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns.Marion ran into a buzz saw on the final night of district play Thursday, losing 45-24 to a talented and physical Hesston squad that was state runners-up in Class 3A a year ago.

Swather running back Parker Roth and quarterback Cameron Cox packed a punishing one-two punch, accounting for 326 of Hesston’s 377 rushing yards.

Hesston scored on every possession but two.

“We just got beat by a better football team,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “They didn’t do anything that we didn’t think they were going to do. It was just a matter of we didn’t play as well as we needed to play, and Hesston played well.”

The Swathers set the tone from the first snap when Reese Nebel took the opening handoff down the right sideline 80 yards and into 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 2-point conversion made it 8-0 Hesston.

Relying on its ground game, Marion found a way to answer, converting a key fourth-down in the red zone to keep the drive alive. The Warriors covered 68 yards in 14 plays, with Jack Schneider capping the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. Chase Stringer’s 2-point conversion run tied the game at 8.

The quarter ended with the deadlock, but Hesston was soon on the move again. 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 2-point conversion attempt failed, but Hesston led, 14-8.

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. 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 run by Roth, then a 28-yard run by Cox. By the end of the quarter, Hesston’s lead had grown to 38-8, and the Swathers were in the red zone again, thanks to a 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 scoring run leading to the final 45-24 margin.

Marion rolled up 305 yards of offense, including 294 yards rushing. Schnei­der had 13 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown. Stringer rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

Thierolf said his team needs to improve its tackling on defense and ability to capitalize on offensive opportunities.

“We didn’t stop (Cameron Cox) or (Parker Roth) all night long,” Thierolf said. “We just had a heck of a time trying to put a body on them, and that was really the key to the game. We’ve just got to bounce back and be ready to go.”

Coming—With the win, Hesston (3-0, 6-3) clinched the Class 3A District 12 championship and was scheduled to face District 11 runners-up Hutchinson Trinity (2-1, 6-3) Tuesday.

As district runner-up, Marion (2-1, 7-2) traveled to District 11 champion Hal­stead (2-1, 4-5). With a win Tuesday, Marion would play the winner of Douglass (3-0, 3-6) and Cheney (1-2, 7-2) Saturday.

This marks the third year in a row the Warriors have ended the regular season with seven wins and two losses, but is the first playoff berth Marion has secured since 2014.

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