Midway through the fourth quarter Friday against Southeast of Saline, the Marion High School Warriors were on the move toward a go-ahead touchdown against the host Trojans.
Two minutes and three key plays later, it was the Trojans who scored to lock up a 34-21 win, dropping Marion to 1-1 in district play.
Trailing 27-21 with 10 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the game, Marion had reached the Trojan 15-yard line, benefiting from two Southeast penalties and an improbable fourth-down conversion by Colten Johnson on a high snap during a punt attempt.
Warrior quarterback Cole Lewman was leveled by Trojan Brock Long after handing the ball to Johnson, and had to be replaced by backup Taylor Heidebrecht.
The next snap got away from Heidebrecht, and so did the Warrior scoring threat, as the Trojans recovered the ball on the Southeast 27, with 8:11 remaining.
Three plays later, on third-and-11, Trojan receiver Cole Brightbill slipped behind the Marion secondary, caught a pass from quarterback Nathan Peterson, and raced 74 yards for a touchdown, extending Southeast’s lead to 34-21.
A last-ditch comeback attempt by the Warriors fell short when Lewman overthrew Dakin Ledford in the end zone on fourth down from the Southeast 11.
“We’re about that close — we’ve been that close to beating three very good football teams, and we’ve lost every one of them,” Marion head coach Grant Thierolf said. “We’ve just got to get over the hump.”
Marion jumped out in front 5 minutes into the game following an interception in Trojan territory by Brody Carroll that he returned to the Southeast 8. Johnson dived over the top of the line from the Trojan 2, and Grif Case kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Southeast answered with a seven-play, 54-yard drive, tying the score on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Peterson to Brightbill at 3:20 remaining in the first quarter.
After Isaac Baldwin recovered a Trojan fumble at the Marion 45, Marion reclaimed the lead, 14-7, on a 5-yard Lewman run at 11:32 of the second quarter. The key play to set up the score was a 43-yard option pass from Johnson to receiver James Jones.
Southeast responded with an 80-yard, 10-play drive culminating in a 13-yard touchdown run by Long, but the Trojans missed the extra point to leave Marion ahead 14-13.
A 3-yard Long touchdown on the next Trojan possession gave Southeast the lead at halftime, 19-14.
The Trojans increased their lead in the third quarter with a grinding 89-yard, 12-play drive that took more than five minutes off the clock. Long did most of the damage on the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Peterson ran the ball for a two-point conversion and a 27-14 lead at the 4:11 mark.
Carroll gave Marion new life with a 47-yard run down the right sideline that took the ball to the Southeast 13. Ledford made a diving 16-yard touchdown catch, and the Case conversion with 1:44 completed the Warriors’ scoring.
The Warrior defense was burned by big plays that resulted in a second consecutive game where Marion gave up more than 400 yards of total offense.
“Southeast is probably as good a team as we’ve played this year,” Thierolf said. “We bent a lot on defense, but we hung in there, and still had chances to win late in the game.
“We had some times where our secondary played very well and made some nice plays, both Eric (Regnier) and James (Jones) undercut some routes, Colton (Johnson) had two picks and Brody (Carroll) had a pick — that’s good to see,” Thierolf said.
“We can’t give up those big plays in those situations,” Thierolf added.
Thierolf lamented several missed scoring opportunities by the Warriors.
“We couldn’t convert inside the 20 — you just can’t do that against good football teams,” Thierolf said.
The Trojans kept Marion’s running game in check most of the game, allowing only 118 yards. Carroll had 55 yards on four carries, but 47 yards came on one play. Johnson was held to 50 yards, and Lewman added 19.
Ledford pulled down two passes for 63 yards, and Jones had two receptions for 48 yards, as Lewman and Johnson combined to complete five passes for 121 total yards.
Marion and Hillsboro face off Friday at Warrior Stadium with a trip to sub-state play on the line. Both teams have identical 1-1 district records.
“You win, you’re in, you lose, you’re out,” Thierolf said.
Theirolf doesn’t plan to make any major adjustments going into the Hillsboro game.
“We just have to concentrate on doing what we do, and doing better than we did this week,” Thierolf said. “Doing all those things so that we’re consistent through the whole game.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.