Team record and opponents’ records tell story
Blowout football games? They had it. Nailbiters? Check. Heartbreaking losses? Yes. Great plays to be talked about for years? Absolutely.
Just about anything a football fan could ask for, save for a playoff run, was part of the Marion High School football season that ended with a 5-4 record and a disappointing loss to rival Hillsboro that shut the Warriors out of postseason play.
Was it what Warrior head coach Grant Thierolf expected going into the season?
“We kind of didn’t have any idea,” Thierolf admitted. “We went in with some very optimistic thoughts, but had to wait and see.”
A postseason comparison of the Warriors’ record against their opponents’ suggests this team performed to expectations.
The Warriors dominated on the way to a 3-0 start against Lyons, Inman, and Bennington, teams with a combined 7-29 record. They moved to 4-0 with a one-point thriller against Moundridge, who ended the season 4-5.
“We started off the season well,” Thierolf said. “Maybe we got lulled into thinking we were a little better than we were.”
The Warriors may have been that good, but an injury to Mikael Antoszyk, in the Bennington game, was one Thierolf noted had significant repercussions.
“When he got hurt that changed what we did offensively,” Thierolf said. “He’d just started to figure out how to be a power runner. Losing him hurt us — it changed our team because it took that elusive kid out of the lineup.”
The loss of senior Antoszyk as a cornerback was felt in the defensive secondary as well, Thierolf said. Season statistics lend weight to Thierolf’s assertion, as opponents completed 66 of 122 passes against the Warriors for 967 yards, an average of 14.7 yards per reception.
Back-to-back losses against Sedgwick, 9-0 in the regular season, and Trinity Catholic of Hutchinson, 6-3, gave the Warriors a reality check. They righted the ship with a win against Remington, and played well in a road loss to Southeast of Saline, 8-1. In all but the final game loss to Hillsboro, the Warriors performed the way postseason records suggest they should have. They easily handled teams with poorer records, and played competitively in losses to stronger teams.
“We played quality football against the highest-quality teams we played, with one exception,” Thierolf said. “For eight games we played pretty good football. We matched them on their terms and played well with them.”
One Warrior who played at a high level regardless of the competition was senior running back Colten Johnson, who led the Marion offensive attack with 1213 yards on 166 carries and 13 touchdowns. Combining unassisted and assisted tackles, Johnson led the defensive charge as well, with 72 total tackles.
“Colton was pretty special all year long. All during the season he made some runs that will go down as some of the best we’ve ever had here,” Thierolf said. “Great vision, great speed — he’s the whole package. It doesn’t matter what year, he’d have played on any team we’ve ever had.”
Cole Lewman piled up 324 yards and nine touchdowns on 87 carries, Brody Carroll gaind 293 yards on 38 carries and scored two touchdowns, and Antoszyk had 178 yards and one touchdown on 28 attempts. Thierolf noted Lewman’s numbers benefitted from a change in the offense.
“The switch to the pistol was a good thing for him,” Thierolf said. “He had a good year of running the option and the offense.”
The Warriors’ emphasis on the run provided limited opportunities in the passing game this season, but senior tight end Dakin Ledford made the most of them, snatching eight receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and averaging 28.3 yards per catch. Ledford created additional opportunities for the Warriors by being the target of several pass interference penalties that kept Marion drives alive.
“Dakin was solid, the best receiver we had,” Thierolf said. “We didn’t get the ball to him enough. And he was a force on defense. They had to know where he was and deal with him.”
Ledford was intimidating enough as a defensive end that opposing offenses frequently chose to run away from him, which gave other Marion defenders more opportunities for tackles. Cory Hiebert 70 total tackles, Carroll had 69, and Spencer Fugitt had 59.
“Cory Hiebet is a tough, hardnosed football player,” Thierolf said. “He did a real nice job of anchoring the defense and being that guy that got us going, that wouldn’t back down from anything.”
Thierolf touted the line play of Jon Tacha and David Helmer, and singled out Tacha’s work at center as the season’s biggest surprise.
“We really didn’t know,” Thierolf said. “We just put him in at center and said ‘let’s go with it’ and he became a very capable offensive linemen who has some better days as a football player ahead of him.”
Thierolf ticked off the names of many returning players who had good seasons, and who will all benefit from a common theme — getting stronger — to move to the next level of performance in 2012.
“That is going from being a starter to be an all-league football player.”