After witnessing their Warriors decimate the Sedgwick Cardinals by scoring 30 points in the third quarter, Marion fans had a question to ponder on the long drive home from a 44-21 win: How good can this team be?
“That’s the best half of football we’ve played this year by far,” coach Grant Thierolf said. “We’ve got to make certain we keep that going, finish things off.”
In the first half, the Warriors looked more like the team that hadn’t beaten the Cardinals since joining the Heart of America league, falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Marion pulled to within 8 when Jack Schneider found Mason Pedersen on a 56-yard touchdown pass, and narrowly missed the chance to tie the score when a wide open Pedersen couldn’t catch up to a Schneider bomb.
While halftime brought a few coaching adjustments, it was up to the players to step up their games.
“We knew this game was big,” senior Brice Shults said. “We seniors hadn’t beaten them yet and it was our last chance. We realized we weren’t doing our jobs. I think it finally all clicked.”
Exploded was more like it, starting with the first play from scrimmage when Schneider streaked past Sedgwick defenders, shedding a tackle at the Cardinals 28, for a 49-yard touchdown. With Corbin Wheeler’s 2-point conversion knotting the score at 14 just 8 seconds into the second half, the first half was history.
Less than a minute had elapsed when Garrett Hoffner intercepted a Sedgwick pass at the Cardinals 43.
Five plays later, Schneider punched in another score from 7 yards out, and the Warriors led 20-14.
While the Warriors defense was shutting down the Cardinals offense, Wheeler tallied two touchdowns of 52 and 23 yards, both outside runs on pitches from Schneider.
“The first half we weren’t blocking it very well and we weren’t getting out to the edges as quick as we could,” Wheeler said. “In the second half our wide receivers and slots really upped their game.”
“We challenged them at halftime,” he said. “It’s not just about catching passes, it’s about doing your job downfield. The second half we saw some of those blocks. When Jack made those pitches, he was downfield already, so we already had the edge.”
Aaron Riggs pushed the advantage to 44-14 in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard scoring run and a 2-point conversion.
The Cardinals tacked on a late final score against the Warriors’ reserves.
Peyton Heidebrecht said he was surprised at the Warriors’ scoring deluge.
“That was intense,” he said. “A couple of times we were shocked we even got some of those breakaways. We were getting the right steps, the right reads, and once we do what we’re supposed to, things open up.”
The Warriors gained 330 yards on about half as many plays as Sedgwick. Schneider accounted for 54 yards on the ground and 127 through the air, 84 of those on two passes to Pedersen. Wheeler rolled up 94 yards rushing.
Heidebrecht said it felt good to get a come-from-behind victory on the road against Sedgwick.
“I felt like it meant more to us,” he said. “We haven’t won ever against these guys. Just coming back on them and putting up that many points against them, that’s one for the records.”
For assistant coach Shaun Craft, the win was an important team milestone.
“A lot of guys grew up tonight in a big ball game,” Craft said. “It took us a while to adjust, but once they figured out the speed and what it means to play in a big game, what you have to do to be successful, they did it. The kids just came out in the second half ready to play and did what they knew they could do.”
Marion returns to Warrior Stadium for a homecoming matchup Friday against Remington.