Marion roared back from a slow start for a convincing 38-6 win over Trinity Catholic of Hutchinson on Friday that clinched the Heart of America League championship.
Trinity asserted itself early, opening the game with a relentless 71-yard, 14-play touchdown drive capped off by a 12-yard run by Greg Bird.
“We were playing defense like we were relaxed,” lineman Nathan Baldwin said. “We were 5-0 and we felt great going into the game; we underestimated our opponent. Their offensive line just shut us down on the first series.”
Marion struck back in the second quarter when quarterback Jack Schneider found a seam on the right corner.
“I saw the blocks up front, they got it sealed,” Schneider said. “I saw I had an angle and turned it on and tried to beat them to the corner.”
The fourth-fastest sprinter in Class 3A last spring left everyone in the dust, blazing 48 yards for a touchdown. He also ran in the conversion to put the Warriors up 8-6.
“As he came around after he scored, I gave him a high five and said, ‘Dang, Jack, you’re fast,’” Baldwin said. “There’s just no other words.”
Coach Grant Thierolf said Schneider was similar to past Warriors who put their track speed to good use on the gridiron.
“Jack’s obviously a fast player,” he said. “Sometimes you just let your athletes make plays.”
Trinity was poised to strike back when Bird returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Marion 23. Kaleb Hammeke kept Trinity alive with a fourth-and-11 run for a first down at the 10.
Fired up by a backfield tackle by Jarret McLinden, the Warriors denied the Celtics the end zone, with cornerback Mason Pedersen knocking down a fourth-down pass.
Taking over at their own 13, it took the Warriors all of 16 seconds to score, thanks again to the fleet feet of Schneider, who started left then cut up the field for an 87-yard run. Aaron Riggs scored the conversion to put Marion ahead 16-6 at the half.
Trinity forced a Marion fumble on the opening kickoff in the third quarter, recovering at the Marion 37. The Celtics got no farther than the 28, getting stuffed on a fourth-and-2 play.
The Warriors were on the board again just 11 seconds later, as Pederson got behind Celtic defenders and hauled in a Schneider bomb for a 72-yard touchdown.
‘We were going to run one of our base runs, and then we decided we wanted a big play,” Schneider said. “Mason told me ‘Just throw it up there and I’ll go get it for you,’ and I did. The offensive line gave us perfect time all night. We only threw three passes, but all three were good.”
Schneider also completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Peyton Heidebrecht in the fourth quarter. Corbin Wheeler tallied the Warriors’ final touchdown on a 37-yard jaunt, with Riggs’ conversion capping the 38-6 win.
Schneider picked up 160 yards on nine rushes and was 3-of-3 passing with two touchdowns. Riggs carried 13 times for 65 yards.
Defensively, Tyler Palic was involved in 18 tackles, followed by Garrett Hoffner with 14.
Theirolf was pleased with the team’s league championship, but said there was little time to savor it.
“It feels good, but as coaches our minds are already on Southeast of Saline,” he said. “You don’t get to celebrate very long; Your mind starts drifting to what’s next. I hope our kids do celebrate and have fun tonight, but at the same time I hope they focus and realize there are bigger things out there.”
Marion begins its bid for postseason play on Friday at home against Southeast of Saline.