The Marion Warriors took another dominant step toward a district championship Friday with a 44-12 win over Hillsboro at Joel Wiens Stadium.
For the under-manned Trojans, it was another case of staying within reach of their opponents in the first half, but wearing down in the second half for a lopsided loss.
The best news for Trojan fans was the return of Kaden Kleiner at quarterback, who missed the previous two games with an injury. But Kleiner’s return was only a partial boost, given the strong south wind that made the Trojan passing game difficult for two of the four quarters.
Marion, meanwhile, was all but oblivious to wind gusts with their strong commitment to the ground game.
Neither team moved the ball consistently in the early going, but Marion changed that trend on the Warriors’ second possession.
Starting at the Hillsboro 38 after a short Trojan punt into the wind, the Warriors penetrated the end zone seven plays later when quarterback Chase Stringer slipped through the middle of the line for a 6-yard touchdown at the 1:42 mark of the first quarter. A 2-point conversion run put Marion in front, 8-0.
“We just kept doing what we’ve been doing all year long and just tried to be physical on the offensive line,” Marion coach Grant Thierolf said of the drive. “They’ve had a heck of a spade of injuries and lost some really good kids, but our kids have battled through some things, too. We just wanted to see if we couldn’t assert ourselves on them in the first half in the run game and just keep pounding. We hoped that we could wear them down, because their kids are playing both sides of the ball.”
The Warriors scored on their next two possessions to take a 22-6 lead into the halftime locker room. Stringer scored a second touchdown on a 9-yard run with 3:58 left in the half. Corbin Wheeler added the 2-point conversion run for a 16-0 cushion.
When Hillsboro went three-and-out in their ensuing possession, Wes Shaw punted into the end zone for a touchback. With the ball on the Marion 20, Evann Heidebrecht ran 79 yards before he was brought down at the Hillsboro 1-yard line.
Stringer, however, scored on the next play. The Trojans stopped Heidebrecht’s 2-point conversion run for a 22-0 score with 2:09 left in the half.
With the wind at his back in the second quarter, Kleiner fueled the Trojan attack through the air, hitting five of his six attempts. After Marion was penalized for unnecessary roughness deep in Warrior territory, Kleiner found Jacob Funk in the end zone on the next play for a three-yard score with 18 second remaining. Kleiner’s 2-point pass was unsuccessful, and the 22-6 lead carried into halftime.
Hillsboro’s second half fade started almost from the start. Marion took the kickoff and drove 69 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 29-yard run by Wheeler. Stringer’s 2-point run made the score 30-6 with 7:16 left in the quarter.
Hillsboro received possession, but was forced to punt after five plays. Shaw’s wind-aided kick turned into another touchback—and another Marion possession at their own 20.
This time, Stringer ran through the middle of the line like a hot knife through butter. The junior didn’t cool down until he completed the 80-yard touchdown at the 5:23 mark. A Warrior fumble on the 2-point attempt kept the score 36-6.
The slide deepened when the Trojans allowed Marion to recover the ensuing kickoff, giving them possession at the Trojan 40. Two running plays moved the ball to the 28-yard line.
From there, Stringer executed Marion’s only pass of the game—against the wind, no less—into a touchdown reception for Zachary Stuchlik with 4:09 left in the third quarter. The 44-6 margin kicked in the running clock.
The Trojans scored the final touchdown of the game on a 9-yard pass from Kleiner to Darian Ratzlaff. The 2-point pass to Funk failed, for the final 44-12 margin.
Trojan coach Devin Metzinger said he was pleased by Kleiner’s return performance.
“Being a senior, you want to be out here on your senior night, you want to be able to compete,” he said. “It was nice to see him pick up where he left off. Of course, the wind doesn’t help a quarterback like that, It makes it tough to put the ball where you want it to go. I thought he did well.”
Marion finished with a 416-244 edge in total offense. Stringer led the ground attack with 163 yards on 17 carries, while Heidebrecht added 144 yards on eight carries and Wheeler 69 yards on 10 carries.
Kleiner threw for 200 yards for the Trojans on 11-for14 passing. Jacob Funk caught seven passes for 108 yards. Ratzlaff added 89 receiving yards with six receptions.
“We’ve got to play better in the passing game, but this time of year, it’s really all about just continue and advance, so that’s really where our focus was, just trying to really play hard.” Thierolf said.
“We’ve got to find some pass rush,” he added. “We’ve got to defend the ball better, but their quarterback made some nice throws, and that (Funk) is a heck of a load at wide receiver.”
Coming—Marion (7-1 for the season, 2-0 in district play) can nail down the Class 3A District 5 championship Thursday when the Warriors host Hesston (5-3).
““I think we’re assured a spot (in the state playoffs) now because we’ve maxed out our points,” Thierolf said.
Hillsboro (1-7, 0-2), meanwhile, will complete its season Thursday at Southeast of Saline.