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Wheeler’s wheels, strong run game lead to Warrior victory

Staff writer

Senior running back Corbin Wheeler ran for three touchdowns and the Marion Warriors pounded for 293 yards on the ground, but never quite put away the Moundridge Wildcats in a 36-26 season opener played in light rain.

“It wasn’t pretty at all, but first games are like that,” head coach Grant Thierolf said.

The Warriors and Wildcats traded touchdowns throughout the first half, and answered each other’s scores again in the second half. The difference was Marion opened the scoring in both halves after closing out the first with its own touchdown.

Marion converted for two points after three of their five touchdowns, while Moundridge only succeeded in one extra point attempt in four tries.

“Because of our two-point plays, I felt confident that we were in pretty good shape,” Thierolf said. “But we just never put the hammer down that we needed to. We had multiple opportunities to.”

Penalties and a fumble stalled Marion drives and extended Moundridge ones. But Moundridge never got closer than when it was down by two, 14-12, late in the second quarter before a Marion touchdown and conversion with 1:47 left in the half made the score 22-12.

Wheeler and senior running back Jack Schneider each had 16 touches, and junior quarterback Chase Stringer ran 11 times. Schneider and Stringer added a touchdown apiece.

Wheeler averaged 8.7 yards per carry on 139 yards, while Schneider averaged 9.6 on 153.

Schneider moved to running back after starting for three seasons at quarterback, earning all-league honors last season.

“We wanted to play Chase (Stringer) at quarterback, it’s as simple as that,” Theirolf said. “Jack (Schneider) can give us some nice things at running back and Chase can give us some nice things at quarterback.”

Stringer made the most of his one completed pass in four attempts, a 46-yard touchdown to senior tight end Garrett Hoffner.

“He’s got a great arm,” Thierolf said. “We didn’t give him great protection, and he’ll get more comfortable as the weeks go on.”

Marion struggled to stop Moundridge’s balanced offense. The Wildcats ran for 194 yards and threw for another 152.

“They played a very good game tonight,” Thierolf said. “I want to give them credit because they didn’t make anything easy on us.”

The coach said open field tackling needs improvement.

“We just got to tackle better,” he said. “We didn’t cover things as well defensively as we needed to. The defensive line didn’t get off blocks like they needed to. We just got a lot of technique stuff to do and things to get better at.”

Wheeler led the defense from the secondary with 10 tackles. Linebackers Hoffner, junior Evann Heidebrecht, and senior Jacob Vondenkamp combined for 18.5 tackles.

Senior Tyler Palic, who earned all-league honors last year on the offensive line and at linebacker, was sidelined with an apparent ankle injury in the first quarter.

“They kind of took advantage a little bit of Tyler (Palic) being out, because they attacked us up the middle, and he does such a great job,” Thierolf said.

“That happens at every level, that happens for every team,” he said. “That’s why you have kids work hard in the weight room, so when it’s their turn to be in, they got to be in.”

Senior defensive back Zachary Stuchlik grabbed two interceptions to counter Moundridge’s two touchdown passes.

“We’ve got to bring more speed into our defense, and that’s something that we will look at and see what we can do,” Thierolf said.

Both teams’ defenses gave away two free first downs with penalties. Marion committed seven penalties for 70 yards.

“A couple of times we made some foolish penalties that allowed them to stay in drives,” Thierolf said. “Some of the things we weren’t in the right places that we needed to be, from a defensive standpoint.

Marion plays Inman at home Friday. Thierolf said Inman graduated a lot of seniors at skill positions from last year’s squad.

“We’re really not concerned with who we play next week,” he said. “We’re more concerned with getting ourselves better.”

Last modified Sept. 7, 2017

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