Marion bounced back from last week’s loss to Hutchinson Trinity by overwhelming Halstead, 40-22, in the opening night of district play Friday at Warrior Stadium.
“I’m very pleased to have our seniors end the game in a very positive way,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “I was really pleased with the effort we had in practice all week long, just keeping our heads up and staying positive and being resilient.
“That’s a big thing in life, being resilient and coming back when things aren’t going the way you want them to go. You still have to show up to work every day, and they did that tonight.”
Cool, wet weather didn’t dampen the Warriors’ spirit as they got off to a sizzling start. After forcing Halstead to go four-and-out on the first possession of the game, and taking over the ball on Halstead’s 25-yard line, quarterback Taylor Heidebrecht—in fine form after being sidelined with an injury in last week’s game—scrambled to the 6-yard line. Brody Carroll then ran in for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with the extra point.
“We kind of dictated the game when they went for fourth down on their first possession and we shut them down,” Thierolf said. “I thought our kids got energized by that.”
Halstead picked up a first down on a big run on its next possession, but promptly fumbled the ball away near Marion’s 37-yard line with just under 5:00 left in the quarter. Marion sputtered and prepared to punt on fourth-and-12 when a bad snap went over the head of punter Kyle Palic. But Palic scooped up the ball and ran to Halstead’s 15-yard line for a first down with 2:35 remaining.
“A huge play, a huge first down,” Thierolf said. “I thought Kyle Palic played lights-out tonight.”
Heidebrecht took over from there, scoring from 11 yards out for a 14-0 lead as the first quarter wound down.
Marion continued its domination in the second quarter, sacking the Dragon quarterback on a third-and-five to stop Halstead. Heidebrecht picked up a first down, then a touchdown with a 48-yard run to make it 21-0 with 6:48 left in the half.
Halstead appeared to threaten in the waning minutes, driving to its own 42-yard line. But Jacob Harper intercepted a pass to give Marion the ball as time ran out.
With its sights set on the playoffs, Marion came out of the locker room and marched to its fourth score: an 8-yard run by Heidebrecht for a 27-0 lead.
The Warriors got another break when Evan Slater recovered a fumble at the Halstead 43-yard line with 6:51 life in the third quarter. Heidebrecht and Carroll pounded away at the Dragon defense before Carroll scored from a yard out for a 33-0 lead with just over 3:00 left.
“That was a huge thing,” Thierolf said. “ I thought for three and a half quarters we played our best football of the year. But I know we can play better.”
Halstead finally put points on the board with its next possession. Taking advantage of a facemask penalty that started the possession at the 50-yard line, Jonah McKee ran in from 17 yards out. The Dragons trailed 33-6 as the quarter ended.
Carroll scored his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter before the Warriors lost back-to-back fumbles in their own territory. The turnovers led to a pair of Halstead touchdowns as the game ended at 40-22.
“I felt like our kids sustained the effort better than they have all year long,” Thierolf said. “We’re pretty excited, but we know there’s still a whole lot of season left and a whole lot of things we can get better at. But it was a good start tonight.”
Coming—Marion, 3-4 overall and 1-0 in district play, will travel to Hillsboro Friday to face the undefeated Trojans (7-0). Game time is 7 p.m. A win over Hillsboro or Moundridge would qualify the Warriors for the state playoffs.