The phrase “too little, too late” seems to undersell it.
While Marion may have lost to Meade 33-18 Friday night, allowing the game’s first 25 points and never recovering, it seemed like more than a game that could be encapsulated by the most trite of sports cliches.
Friday’s game saw a young team get a little older — a little rougher around the edges. The Warriors gave it their all from the get-go, and they got hammered, so they gave more.
Desperately needing a score, down 25 points with 1:40 left in the first half, offensive coordinator Shaun Craft dialed up the passing game to fabulous results. Marion sped down the field and quarterback Jack Schneider capped the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to a favorite target, Mason Pedersen, with 23 seconds left in the half.
Marion received the second half kickoff and had its best drive of the season. Schneider completed short pass after short pass, getting multiple receivers involved. The running game got a little bit of breathing room as the Meade defense backed off the line of scrimmage out of necessity.
A fourth-and-1 conversion from Aaron Riggs, passes to Corbin Wheeler and Peyton Heidebrecht, and another Riggs run got the Warriors down inside the 10-yard line, where Schneider ran the ball in for a touchdown. Again, the conversion attempt failed, and the Warriors were down 25-12.
“Against a good, quality opponent, I thought that was probably the best offensive series we’ve had all year,” head coach Grant Thierolf said. “We were able to run, we completed some passes, we kind of took advantage of things. Our offensive line kind of stood out, they gave Jack time.”
Meade got the ball back with its first substantial chance since its four-possession lead was cut to a two-score margin.
The Warriors promptly forced a fumble and took the ball back.
With the crowd fully engaged for what felt like the first time all night, Marion moved the ball effectively again, a pass to Heidebrecht getting the Warriors in the red zone.
Wheeler caught a short pass and bulldozed a Meade defender to finish the play.
Here the Warriors’ momentum stopped. Facing a third-and-6, the Warriors were called for delay of game, then for a false start. One incomplete pass later, it was fourth-and-16. Schneider avoided a sack but was unable to run for a first down.
Meade took the ball on downs and moved the ball methodically downfield, scoring early in the fourth quarter and adding a 2-point conversion to set the Warriors back down 21.
Marion kept fighting. Jack Schneider went down on a hit on the next drive, but just had the wind knocked out of him. On the one play Schneider sat out, Wheeler stepped in at quarterback and ran for a big gain, only to need attention on the field for what appeared to be a cramp. He came back in soon after. The Warriors converted a fourth-and-5. A screen pass to Mason Pedersen gave the Warriors their third touchdown of the night.
“I’m just really happy with our kids that in the second half we stood up and kind of understood how they were going to play and what it was going to take,” Thierolf said.
Of the six teams Meade had played this year prior to Friday, two others had scored at least 18. The other four combined for 12.
While the Warriors lost, the game gave them confidence that they can compete with the state’s best.
“Honestly, this is one where you kind of feel the kid who fell in love with football in you,” senior Adam Kjellin said. “You’ve put in all the hard work, but you played for the younger you.”
While “Warriors 18, Buffaloes 8” may not have been the score of the game, it was the score of the game’s final 24 minutes, 23 seconds. For the Warriors, it was something to build off with two district games remaining and their playoff fate in the balance.
“We are way beyond any moral victories or anything like that: We lost the game,” Thierolf said. “At the same time, as coaches and educators, we’ve got to recognize when our kids did well, and we did well in the second half.”