A promising first half was tarnished Friday when 20 unanswered second-half points worked against the Warriors, resulting in a 34-24 loss to Northern Heights.
It was Marion’s first loss of the year, but coming off a close call in Chase County, head coach Grant Thierolf was hoping for more success.
“We’re just not playing well right now,” he said. “We’ve got to play better. Until we make that decision as a full team, to play better, we’ll get results like this.”
Things started promisingly enough for the Warriors, who struck first on a long Jack Schneider run in which Schneider reversed field and outraced the Wildcats defense to the end zone.
Northern Heights wasted no time responding with a score of its own. The Wildcats offense came out with two players behind center at shotgun distance, with hands held out as though anticipating the snap. The Warriors were off-balance as running back Theron Row got a direct snap and ran up the middle for a touchdown.
Undeterred, the Warriors fired back. A 69-yard connection from Schneider to receiver Mason Pedersen got the Warriors in scoring range, where Peyton Heidebrecht finished it off with an 8-yard score.
The early fireworks left the Warriors ahead 16-7 with 8 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The game slowed from there, as the teams exchanged punts and turnovers until the Wildcats attempted a field goal late in the second quarter. The kick was short, and caught by a Warriors defender, but an official blew his whistle inadvertently, killing the play.
The Warrior defender had a clear path to the end zone, and by rule should have been allowed to try to score. Instead, because the whistle was blown with the ball in the air, the Wildcats got a chance to retry, which they also missed. The official who blew the whistle admitted he missed the call.
After a Warriors punt, Row struck again with a 63-yard touchdown run with 2:05 left in the half, bringing the score to 16-14.
The Warriors’ best moment of the night came on the ensuing drive, when Schneider led the offense into the red zone quickly.
Schneider finished the drive by lofting a pass to the back of the end zone, where a sliding Pedersen caught it and managed to get a knee down in bounds. The two-point conversion put the Warriors up 24-14 with 2 seconds left in the half.
Northern Heights adopted a different approach in the second half and turned the game on its heels. Trent Burd amassed 146 yards on 27 carries, most of that coming in the second half.
“I thought we had momentum at the end of the first half,” Thierolf said. “Then they came right out and drove the ball on us, six minutes in the third quarter. That kind of set the tone for the second half.”
A quick Marion punt followed Northern Heights’s opening drive. The Wildcats ate up more clock on their way to another touchdown, taking the lead 27-24 with 33 seconds in the third quarter.
Northern Heights would add a dagger touchdown with just over 3 minutes left in the game.
The Warriors’ comeback attempts yielded nothing, and Schneider finished the game with three interceptions.
“I don’t think we ever had a possession where we moved the ball effectively in the second half at all,” Thierolf said. “We just never got into a rhythm anywhere offensively, and it’s hard to play football when you can’t do that.”
Marion has to regroup quickly, as Meade, ranked No. 1 in the state, comes to town Friday.