Marion got the result it wanted, just not in the way it had envisioned it would.
Outplayed for more than three quarters, the Warriors persevered through perhaps their worst game of the season, scoring a late touchdown to come out 14-13 winners against the Bulldogs.
“We certainly weren’t good tonight, but Chase County had a lot to do with that,” head coach Grant Thierolf said. “They had an excellent game plan and took us out of some of the things we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. With that said, our kids finally figured it out.”
Already ahead 7-0 late in the first quarter with the ball in their own territory, Chase County faced a third and seven. Warriors players were able to meet the ball carrier early on, but were pushed back across the first-down line.
Thierolf called a timeout to talk to his team. Facing a similar third and six on the first play of the second quarter, the Warriors responded in the form of a Bryce Shults interception.
“We needed that stop there to change the momentum of the game,” Shults said afterward. “I saw both receivers cut inside, I saw the pass overthrown, and I said: ‘Hey, this is my chance.’”
Quarterback Jack Schneider ran the ball in for a score on the first play of the ensuing drive. After being dominated for the entire first quarter, the Warriors reclaimed the lead just 17 seconds into the second with a 2-point conversion from Aaron Riggs.
The Warriors could not hold on to the momentum for long, however. After a block-in-the-back penalty sunk their next drive, the Warriors gave up another score to the Bulldogs.
Shults made another play, blocking the extra point.
“I just shot through,” he said. “I timed it out perfect on the snap.”
The face-saving stop seemed hardly consequential at the time, but proved to be the difference in the game.
With both teams boasting run-heavy offenses, the clock rolled quickly. Neither team allowed many big plays defensively.
“I told them, ‘Sooner or later we’re gonna get them on their heels, we’re just gonna keep pounding and pounding and pounding,’” Thierolf said. “Nothing else was working, they were just more physical tonight.”
Early in the fourth quarter with the ball and the lead, Chase County was well-positioned, and Marion was running out of chances. A third-down stop put the Bulldogs in fourth-and-five near midfield.
The Bulldogs faked the punt, running up the gut, when Garrett Hoffner, after whose grandfather Chase County’s field is named, made a stop that would turn the game for good.
Taking over at the 50-yard line, the Warriors marched down the field, running with Riggs, Schneider, and Corbin Wheeler.
“We just said, ‘Hey, we’re going right behind our big guys,’” Thierolf said. “And we did, down to the goal line — and scored.”
Wheeler got the edge on the Chase County defense for the decisive score.
Hoffner reprised his impactful role on the ensuing Bulldogs drive with a 7-yard tackle-for-loss on first down. Chase County turned the ball over on downs, and Marion got enough first downs to run the clock out.
“We made enough plays to win the game, but we’ll learn a lot from this game,” Thierolf said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get better.”
Marion, 5-0, will get the chance to show what it learned from its first close call of the year when it plays Northern Heights on Friday at Warrior Stadium.