The Marion High School Warriors had an answer for every new wrinkle tossed at them Friday night by Bennington, using strong defense, offense, and special teams play to overwhelm the Bulldogs 40-0 at Bennington.
“They didn’t run any of the formations they showed on film – they came out in completely different formations,” Marion assistant coach Jerry Smith said. “Everything we practiced against all week they weren’t doing.”
The Warriors were unfazed by the new schemes as the defense held the Bulldogs scoreless while giving up only 105 total yards, and gave Marion excellent field position all night long.
“We talked all week long they were going to do something different, something that’s going to catch us by surprise,” Marion head coach Grant Thierolf said. “They did some things they hadn’t shown, but that’s not bad for our kids, because they have to adjust on their own and adjust on the run, and it’s not bad for our coaches because then we have to adjust quickly, too.”
Marion set the tone for a strong offensive showing on its first possession of the game. Starting at their own 37-yard line, the Warriors needed just four plays to score, with Brody Carroll sweeping around left end and bolting 58 yards for a touchdown. The failed extra point left the score 6-0 at 8:03 remaining in the first quarter.
A strong defensive stand and a punt return by Michael Antoszyk found the Warriors starting their next possession at the Bennington 33. Marion covered the distance to the end zone in one play, a touchdown pass from Cole Lewman to Jacob Harper, and with Antoszyk scoring the 2-point conversion, the Warriors led 14-0 with barely six minutes elapsed in the game.
A 27-yard Antoszyk punt return set the Warriors up at the Bennington 33 again on their next possession. Colten Johnson, who led Marion rushers with 131 yards on 13 carries, bulled his way to the end zone from the Bulldog 11 for Marion’s third touchdown of the first quarter, staking Marion to a 20-0 advantage.
Bennington’s new offensive scheme attempted to confuse the Warriors, but Marion defenders adapted easily to the new look.
“Our defense adjusted really well – we were ready to go,” defensive lineman Dakin Ledford said.
“We‘ve got some kids out there who were doing some hitting tonight,” Smith said. “I think our team stepped a level up this week and I’m real proud of those kids on defense.”
Ledford got into the act on offense early in the second quarter when he was on the receiving end of a 24-yard scoring pass from Lewman, who was 5-of-8 on the night for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The touchdown at 8:40 put Marion ahead 26-0.
Marion’s final possession of the first half started at their own 44. A 20-yard gallop by Johnson and a 24-yard reception by Antoszyk were key plays that set up Antoszyk’s 2-yard touchdown run with 1:14 remaining in the half. Grif Case kicked the extra point for the 33-0 halftime margin.
Bennington opened the second half by attempting an onside kick, but James Jones recovered for Marion on the Warrior 46.
It took only one play for Marion to make the Bulldogs pay for their decision. Johnson took the ball on a sweep left, brushed off a Bulldog tackler, skirted the sideline, then cut back to the middle of the field through numerous Bennington defenders for a 54-yard score only 17 seconds into the second half. Case tacked on the PAT to account for the final score of 40-0.
The large lead gave Warrior backup players opportunities for play against Bennington’s first team in the second half. While they did not score, reserves Taylor Heidebrecht, Caleb Williams, and Eric Regnier added 66 yards to Marion’s total offense, and the defense preserved the Warrior shutout.
The only significant setback of the evening for Marion came on the next series, when Antoszyk suffered a game-ending leg injury on a sweep. Antoszyk’s play on offense and special teams received praise from Thierolf.
“I thought Michael ran the ball on punt returns and some of the touches on offense as hard as he’s ever run,” Thierolf said. “I thought our punt return game was great tonight.”
“For the most part we played pretty well,” Thierolf said. “It was the kind of game that we knew coming in that if we did what we should do we’d probably be in pretty good shape – the kids did that.”
Carroll totaled 65 yards on five carries, and Antoszyk added 56 yards on nine carries. Five different Warriors were on the receiving end of Lewman passes.
Cory Hiebert led the way on defense with nine total tackles, followed by Wiley Lundy with seven, and five other Warriors had five tackles each.
Marion returns home Friday for a homecoming matchup against Moundridge at 7 p.m.