Mitchell Leppke scored on a four-yard run with 6:48 left in the first quarter and Brian Fruechting hammered home the point-after kick.
But Marion was called for a pass-interference penalty with 3:29 left in the first period, setting up Sterling’s tying touchdown with 2:24 to go.
Sterling running back Joey Stromberg broke a 55-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to break the deadlock.
In between the tying score and the go-ahead score, the Warriors and the Black Bears both had their offenses stall with a combination of drive-killing penalties, dropped passes and determined defense.
But in the end, Stromberg’s explosiveness tilted the game, as the Sterling senior piled up six runs of 10 yards or more.
Neither team scored in the second or third quarters despite several threatening drives.
On Sterling’s first possession of the second quarter, Stromberg ripped a 20-yard run to move the Bears from 40 to 40. But the Marion defense pushed them back, forcing a third-and-29 with help from a holding penalty against the Black Bears.
Brett Billings then sacked quarterback Cody Riggs, forcing a fumble that Brian Fruechting recovered for Marion.
The Warriors crossed into Sterling territory on a burst by Mitchell Leppke.
Facing third down with less than a yard to go, Thierolf called for a quarterback sneak. Leppke pushed across the line for the first down, then vanished into a pile of players. But Leppke kept his feet going and broke away from the crowd before being hauled down after a nine-yard gain.
Leppke was sacked on a fourth-and-five moments later, and Sterling took over at its own 25.
Stromberg had a 55-yard run called back because a 10-yard holding penalty. Riggs gained back 12 yards on second down, but Marion’s Brad Klenda cut Stromberg down for no gain on the next play.
Sterling punted, and the half ended 7-7.
Neither team managed a first down. and four straight possessions ended in punts to start the second half. With Austin Hager averaging nearly 35 yards per kick, Marion got the better of the field position.
A nine-yard run from Hager picked up the initial first down of the second half, but the next two plays resulted in negative yardage for Marion.
Facing third-and-20, Leppke ran for 10 yards. Marion did not convert on fourth-and-10 at the Black Bear 33.
Stromberg ran for six yards and Riggs added four for a Sterling first down. Stromberg carried again, reaching the Sterling 45 on a two-yard plunge.
On the next play, the final snap of the third quarter, Stromberg exploded around the left side of the Warrior defense for his long touchdown run and a 14-7 lead.
Marion threatened later in the contest when a run by Hager and a nifty one-handed catch by Sheldon Boone moved Marion to the Sterling 36. But the Warriors again came up short on fourth down.
On the next play, Stromberg blasted through the Warrior defense for 43 yards setting up a first-and-10 at the Marion 20. The Marion defense stiffened to hold Sterling to a field goal with 1:57 left.
Sterling defender Steven Fankhauser came down with an interception on Marion’s next possession, but the Black Bears were unable to run out the clock against the Warrior defense.
Leppke went down hard on Marion’s final drive, bringing backup quarterback Chase Carlson to the controls for the first time all season.
On his first play Carlson completed a pass for Marion’s longest gain of the night—a 23-yarder to Justin Heidebrecht with 45 seconds left in the game.
But the Sterling defense rose to the challenge one final time to preserve their win.
Coming—Marion (2-1) will play at Haven (0-3) on Friday. The Warriors hammered Haven 33-8 a season ago. Last week the Wildcats lost to Rose Hill, 53-0.