Warriors' dream season comes to an end
When it comes to sabotaging the seasons of Marion County high school football teams, the Conway Springs Cardinals have been one of the biggest saboteurs.
Central Plains League teams such as Conway, Garden Plain, and Cheney have been making a habit of knocking both the Marion Warriors and the Hillsboro Trojans out of the playoffs since 2002.
The last time either team upended the Cardinals was 1991, when the Trojans opening their season on a win at Conway Springs.
That also was seven years before the Cardinals’ dominance began in Class 3-1A, reeling off seven state titles, including a 62-game winning streak from 2001 to 2004.
One week removed from arguably one of the biggest victories in Marion football history, out-slugging the heavy-hitting Smith Center Redmen, the Warriors would have to do it again against the Cardinals.
This time, a trip to the Class 1A semifinals — a place uncharted for Marion since 1994 — was at stake Friday at Warrior Stadium.
The Cardinals are a mirror image of the Redmen in physicality, only bigger, with more mobility, and ways to punish opponents with their single-wing backfield.
Taking them down was too tall an order.
The county’s curse with the Central Plains League and Conway Springs continued with the Cardinals outlasting Marion, 28-20.
The Warriors’ best season in 26 years came to a conclusion at 9-2 in the Elite 8 — the best a county team has done since 2006’s semifinalist, Hillsboro.
The loss dropped the county to 0-6 against the Cardinals since 1991 and 1-4 against Central Plains stalwarts outside Chaparral and Douglass.
“I knew they were big, but I didn’t know they could move like they did,” a sullen Warrior coach Shaun Craft said. “It didn’t really look like they did on film. Smith Center had some physical guys, but it seemed like everyone for Conway was.”
The Cardinals are big, and they used that to their advantage in wearing down the Warrior defense with time-consuming drives, keeping the Marion offense on the sideline.
Conway Springs controlled the ball for 29:46 — an entire quarter longer than Marion, which had just 15:42 to work with.
Trevor Schafers’ 51-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game, grabbing an early 6-0 lead, was as good as it would get for Marion.
Most of what was effective in the victory over the Redmen — running by Schafers and quarterback Jack Lanning — was ineffective until the Warriors were in grave danger.
The Cardinals’ defense spent a good amount of time lurking in the Warrior backfield, keeping Schafers and Lanning at bay.
Marion’s 321 total yards almost equalled Conway’s 324, but the Warriors were just 3-for-9 on third downs and a rough 1-for-8 on fourth.
Stopping the Cardinals’ wing offense requires keeping Brayden Kunz, Nathan Bernsten, and Isaac Winter under control.
That didn’t happen. Kunz carried 40 times for a game-high 203 yards and all four touchdowns, leaving Marion playing from behind after Schafers’ touchdown.
Bernsten and Winter combined for 108 more yards on 21 carries, often coming through to extend Cardinal drives and keep the Warrior defense on the field.
Lanning closed out his stunning high school career with 191 total yards, 137 coming from 16 carries and one touchdown.
The Cardinals slowed Schafers down after his touchdown, yielding a mere 35 yards on eight more carries.
Marion pulled to 21-14 late in the third quarter with Lanning taking off on a 36-yard run and a two-point conversion, but the Warriors never got closer. They made one final run with less than a minute left.
Lanning put the icing on Marion’s monumental season, hitting fellow senior Jonathan Frese for a 2-yard touchdown.
A two-point conversion was no good, and Conway recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Joining the trio of Lanning, Schafers and Frese playing their final game were Gavin Regier, Cole Smith, Braydon Blackman, Austin Marsden, and Alec Richardson.
“The seniors are a good group of kids and it was a lot of fun coaching them,” Craft said. “They are super competitive and always knew they would give everything and fight til the end.
”These guys started coming into the weight room every day as seventh graders because they wanted this chance to compete at a high level.
“I’m proud of the leaders they have become and truly appreciate all the time and hard work they put into making the most out of their senior year”.
Last modified Nov. 16, 2023