For three quarters Friday, Marion and Hillsboro footballers stood toe-to-toe exchanging blows, with Marion holding a scant 12-6 edge.
Then the Trojans blinked, and as fast as you can say “Jack Schneider and Brice Shults,” the Warriors were gone, taking with them a 42-14 victory.
The Warriors took a 6-0 lead on their first possession, with Schneider capping a 50-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Trojans found themselves backed up to their own 10-yard line after a penalty on the ensuing kickoff. On second-and-8 from the 12, a pass by Hillsboro’s Kaden Kleiner was picked off by Zachary Stuchlik at the 20.
Two plays later, Corbin Wheeler took the ball around right end for an 11-yard score and a 12-0 Marion lead with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Hillsboro mounted a sustained drive on its next possession. Starting at their own 31, the Trojans got a key fourth-down conversion at the Marion 46 on a Kleiner pass to Jacob Funk. Jorge Hanschu covered the final 9 yards on a right-side sweep to put the Trojans on the board 12-6.
The game became one of defensive will and miscues for the remainder of the half and deep into the third quarter, until Marion took over at its own 15.
Aided by dual Hillsboro penalties on the same play, the Warriors moved the ball to the Trojans 48, where Schneider kept the drive alive on a 1-yard fourth-down plunge.
The Warriors kept rolling into the fourth quarter, and Schneider ended the scoring drought with a 5-yard touchdown. A pass to Mason Pedersen was good for a 2-point converstion to put Marion up 20-6.
Pedersen put a stop to the next Hillsboro drive with an interception at the Marion 47. Schneider broke through on a 46-yard touchdown run, and Aaron Riggs put the Warriors ahead 28-6 with the conversion.
Running out of time and needing to score quickly, Hillsboro took a chance on fourth-and-17 at their own 41, but Kleiner’s pass fell incomplete.
Marion was back in the end zone 6 plays later, courtesy of a 4-yard Schneider scamper, and the Warriors led 34-6.
Hillsboro responded with a 73-yard, 5-play scoring drive, aided by two Marion penalties. Kleiner hit Funk on a slant pass in Marion territory that took the ball from the 37 to the 9-yard line, and a penalty on the tackle put the ball at the 3. Brooks Gardner dived in for the touchdown, and Kleiner again hooked up with Funk for the conversion.
Trailing 34-12 with just :50 remaining, Hillsboro’s Jeff Jorgenson tried an onside kick that bounced right into the hands of Shults, who juked one tackler and bolted 58 yards for a touchdown. Riggs’ 2-point conversion run nailed down the 42-14 win.
“Austin (Neufeld) does a good job when we practice onside kicks, he gets the bounce just right, so I knew how it was going to come to me,” Shults said. “We were pretty well prepared.”
Coach Grant Thierolf complimented Shults for the play, which improved Marion’s position in district play.
“He’s literally one kid who can probably play all 22 positions,” Thierolf said. “It took a nice hop and he was just ready for it when it happened. Normally we tell our guys to just get down, but that ends up being a pretty big play.”
The extra points could come into play in determining what Marion does after Thursday’s regular season finale at Hesston.
The Warriors are going to need some help from, of all teams, Hillsboro, if they’re going to make it to the playoffs.
Hesston, 2-0, is in the driver’s seat, leading big in the margin-of-points tie-breaker system.
Southeast of Saline and Marion share 1-1 records, but SES has a 13-point advantage in the tie-breaker.
In any scenario, Marion must defeat Hesston, and a Hillsboro upset of SES would be the surest way for the Warriors to move on.
We’ll just play,” Thierolf said. “We’ll do our part; all we can do is control what we can control, which is not very much.”