The usual excitement of winning a football game was missing in Marion Friday.
As the rain that characterized the evening continued to fall, the Warriors left the field, a 22-20 victory over district champion Mission Valley lighting the scoreboard.
Yet the excitement wasn?t there, disappointment drowning out the thrill of victory. Marion wasn?t heading to the playoffs, despite going 3-1 in district play, defeating the district champion and achieving an overall record of 7-2.
It was a somber reminder of a costly district loss suffered three weeks prior to Northern Heights.
Three teams had finished with 3-1 records in the district, putting a tie-breaker system into effect. Marion needed an 18-point victory to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Coach Grant Thierolf said it shows the Warriors have to bring their best game every night.
?We didn?t play the best the night that we needed to play the best,? he said. ?What it reinforces is the fact that you?ve got to come to play every night, and as a young team we maybe didn?t understand that.
?We should?ve taken care of business three weeks ago and we didn?t do it then, so it turns into a rough one tonight, but you can?t be anything but happy for the kids. They played hard.?
The Warriors struck first with a four-play, 60-yard drive, keyed by a 22-yard run by Aaron Riggs. Jack Schneider found Mason Pedersen two plays later for a 28-yard touchdown pass, giving Marion an 8-0 lead.
The Vikings crossed the goal line three plays into the second period, tying the score at 8.
The Warriors? second scoring drive culminated in a 10-yard Wheeler run, pushing Marion in front, 16-8.
Mission Valley added a score right before halftime. With 2:41 to work with, the Vikings drove from their own 19-yard line to the Marion 15-yard line in 14 plays. The Vikings completed a 15-yard touchdown pass with one second left. The two-point conversion attempt failed, keeping Marion in front at halftime, 16-14.
Marion pieced together its final scoring drive on its first possession of the second half. Schneider rushed for a 21-yard gain, and two plays later, Riggs broke loose for a 52-yard score, giving Marion a 22-14 advantage.
Mission Valley answered with a 21-yard score, but the two-point conversion failed, bringing it to the final, 22-20 margin with 7:07 left in the third quarter.
Marion threatened to score late in the third quarter, but a pass on fourth-and-goal fell incomplete. With one exception on Marion?s last drive, neither team found the red zone again.
Thierolf praised his defense, with players stepping in to fill new roles in a new system.
?Our defense pretty well held in there,??he said. ?We could just never get that separation away where we had a chance to get up by 18 like we needed to.?
Marion rolled up 349 yards of offense, including 317 rushing led by Riggs with 16 carries for 133 yards. Schneider had 13 carries for 120 yards, and through the air was 2-for-12 for 32 yards and one score.
Marion will graduate three seniors: William Adame, Adam Kjellin and Dylan Pippin.
?I just am so pleased with the three seniors, because it?s tough to lead when you?re just three of you,? Thierolf said.
Marion will move to Class 3A the next two seasons. Just two students from the 2-1A cutoff, Marion will be the second-smallest 3A school.
With a nucleus of players returning, the future bodes well for the Warriors.
?We have a chance to be very good, but it?s going to take a full year in the weight room,? Thierolf said.