Leppke sparks Warriors win with 3 rush TDs


A wiped-out Wildcat snags Drew Maddox by the aglets and holds on long enough to bring the Warrior running back down at the end of a 7-yard run. Maddox carried five times for 28 yards. Andrew Ottoson / Free Press

The Marion Warriors celebrated homecoming with a 21-14 win over Nickerson Friday, gashing the Panthers for 31 rushing yards and a touchdown with an 11-play series out of the gate.

Nickerson received the opening kickoff and fumbled the ball away on its third play from scrimmage. Brad Klenda recovered the loose ball.

The offense then converted on fourth-and-one twice, setting the stage for a four-yard touchdown run by Mitchell Leppke and a 7-0 lead 6:20 into the contest.

But Nickerson repaid Marion in kind at the end of the quarter, capitalizing on a turnover. After the Warriors lost a fumble, the Panthers strung together a nine-play series that culminated in a one-yard plunge by Hector Rodriguez as time expired on the first frame.

Nickerson?s key plays on the scoring drive were runs by Weston Cottrell?one to convert a fourth down into first-and-10 at the Marion 23 and a moment later, an 11-yarder that set up first-and-goal from two yards out.

But Marion counterpunched with Sheldon Boone, who broke a 29-yard run on the second play of the second quarter.

The Warriors pressed the attack, marching 68 yards and capping the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run?Leppke?s second score.

Leppke scored again with 22 seconds left in the half, capping off a series that began at the Marion 27 and was interrupted by an exchange of fumbles deep in Nickerson territory.

On first-and-10 at the Panther 18, Boone rumbled down to the five-yard line but lost the ball with 1:26 left. But the defense?and Mark Kukuk specifically?stifled Nickerson on third-and-three, forcing a fumble that Boone dove on at the Panther 10.

Boone ran like a sledgehammer on the next play, which went for nine yards and set up Leppke to deliver the dagger in the form of a one-yard quarterback keeper dive that made it 21-7.

?We did a better job staying on our blocks this week, and that made our running game effective,? coach Grant Thierolf said. ?We expect the running game to continue to improve, and for that to take care of itself as we get used to playing together.

?But there is a lot we must do better in the passing game,? he added. ?Part of it is making throws that give our receivers a chance to run to the ball.?

Thierolf noted that the Warriors played well on special teams, perhaps most obviously when Tylor Neil raced 58 yards returning the opening kickoff of the second half. But the Warriors stalled, running four plays that lost yardage, setting up a Marion punt 1:26 after intermission.

Nickerson seized the momentum at that point, scoring on a 64-yard toss sweep around the left flank by Weston Cottrell to cut it to 21-14 at 9:45 of the third quarter.

?Apart from the one big run we gave up, I thought our defense played pretty well,? Thierolf said. ?Our defensive ends, Eric Vogel and Nick Klenda, both had good games.?

Each had two tackles for loss, as Nickerson attempted only one pass out of 40 plays from scrimmage.

After Cottrell?s touchdown, the Panthers attempted an onside kick that was swallowed up by Vogel near midfield. But the solid field position did not translate into points for Marion, as the drive stalled at the Nickerson 18.

Marion mounted another extended drive in the fourth quarter, marching down to the Nickerson 17 before backpedaling to the 47 on penalties which included two personal fouls.

?The penalties were for things that are uncharacteristic for us,? Thierolf said. ?They weren?t bad calls, but the penalties did hurt us. We have to do a better job of keeping our composure.?

MHS punted and Nickerson sought the tying score on the drive that ensued from their own 25, expending two timeouts during a 27-second span.

After Marion stuffed the Panthers on third-and-four, Nickerson faked the punt, with kicker Wayne Ratley escaping containment to convert for the first down.

But Marion snuffed out the drive on a seven-yard sack on third down followed by a tackle for no gain with 3:47 to go.

Boone then closed the contest with an 11-yard run on third-and-four, forcing Nickerson?s final timeout with 1:21 remaining. Four plays and one last first down brought out the victory formation, with Leppke kneeling to end the game.

Coming?Marion (2-1) meets Sterling (0-3) at 7 p.m Friday. Hoisington beat the Black Bears 48-7 on Friday.

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