Needing an 18-point victory to advance to regional play, Marion won the battle against Mission Valley 22-20 but lost the war in district play, finishing third in a three-way tiebreaker to end its season at 7-2.
The Warriors twice put a little separation between them and the Vikings, getting 8-point leads in the second and third quarters.
Both times, however, Mission Valley answered. A Mission Valley touchdown as time expired in the first half was a momentum killer, bringing the deficit to 2 before a failed conversion attempt. After the Warriors opened the second half with a score, a 21-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter were the game’s final points.
It was an odd feeling for head coach Grant Thierolf’s team: It felt it was the best team in the district, but it didn’t make it out of district play.
“We feel like we are (the best team in the district), but we didn’t play the best the night that we needed to play the best,” he said. “What it reinforces is the fact you’ve gotta come to play every night.”
With no loss to lament Friday, the Warriors drifted back to three weeks ago against Northern Heights, their only district loss and ultimately the game that ended their season.
“It’s just unbelievable, we should never have lost to Northern Heights,” sophomore Corbin Wheeler said.
That 34-24 loss was a game in which linebacker Tyler Palic was sidelined with illness, and Northern Heights took advantage by repeatedly running the ball right to where the sophomore star typically plays.
“We just had a bad game and it ended up biting us in the end,” Wheeler said.
Still, a win is a win. Thierolf wasn’t going to let his team forget it had beaten the team that ultimately took first in district play.
“You can’t be anything but happy for the kids, they played hard,” Thierolf said. “We were down two starters, our two best linemen (Adam Kjellin and Cade Harms). Antone Vinduska and Jeremy Hett stepped in, we were able to move the ball effectively a lot of the night and make plays.”
The Warriors also had to overcome weather conditions of persistent rain and mild winds.
“Cold and muddy,” Palic said. “It was fun, actually. It wasn’t bad once you got playing, but it was cold after halftime and at the beginning of the game.”
Friday was senior night for the Warriors. A small class, the Warriors honored three: Kjellin, Dylan Pippin, and William Adame.
“I’m so pleased with the three seniors because it’s tough to lead when there are just three of you,” Thierolf said. “Dylan and Adam and William did a really nice job of keeping us focused for the most part, and just being there every day.”
With the season behind them, the Warriors turn to next year, when the Warriors will return all but those three players. They will also compete in 3A.
“Our goal is to be the smallest school in the history of 3A to win a state championship,” Thierolf told his team afterward.
The players echoed that sentiment.
“I’m hoping to win state,” Palic said. “I think we can do it. We have the talent.”