The Marion High School Warriors rushed for 479 yards and eight touchdowns Friday, crushing Sunrise Christian Academy, 54-10, at Warriors Stadium.
“I’ve told our kids for three weeks that when we play together and play with one heartbeat, we can be a very good football team,” Marion head coach Grant Thierolf said.
The Warriors dominated on both sides of the ball, but the play of the defense was especially noteworthy against Sunrise Academy’s high-powered passing attack.
Sunrise quarterback Zach Howell passed for more than 4,000 yards in 2011 and had one game in which he passed for more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns. He racked up 23 completions and 269 yards Friday but got the Buffaloes in the end zone only once.
Marion defensive coordinator Jerry Smith said Howell caused a few sleepless nights before the game.
“I spent a lot of nights waking up at night trying to figure out how to stop this kid,” Smith said.
“We prepared all week,” Warriors defensive back Eric Regnier said. “We were staying deep, not giving up anything long, and just flying to the ball. That’s what we worked on all week, to get fast breaks to the ball and shut them down when they caught it.”
The Warriors threw a few other wrinkles at the Buffaloes.
“We started with a four-man front, but we were getting hurt over the middle, so we went to three so we had two middle backers,” Smith said. “We had about four different coverages that might have confused them a little bit.”
Marion set the tone for the game early by scoring on its opening drive. The biggest damage came on a 42-yard pass from Taylor Heidebrecht to Jacob Harper, down to the Sunrise 6-yard line. Heidebrecht swept untouched into the end zone from the 4-yard line, and Grif Case made the extra point to put Marion up, 7-0.
An exchange of possessions gave Sunrise the ball on their own 3-yard line, and the Warriors were a foot away from tackling Buffalo running back Michael Lee for a safety. But Howell connected on a 30-yard pass to Jake Berdan, and Sunrise marched to the Marion 11 before Howell was thrown for a 6-yard loss.
On third-and-7 from the Marion 17-yard line, Howell went for the score with a pass to the end zone, but defensive back James Jones leaped high to swat the ball down, and Sunrise settled for a field goal.
Brody Carroll got into the scoring column early in the second quarter when he cut back against the Sunrise defense and dashed 52 yards for a touchdown. Case’s PAT made the score 14-3 at the 11:32 mark.
Heidebrecht ripped off a 34-yard run on the Warriors’ next possession, and finished off the drive with an 8-yard scoring run. The extra point by Case put Marion up, 21-3.
Sunrise gambled on fourth-and-1 from their own 44-yard line, but Evan Slater and a host of other Warriors stopped Lee in his tracks, giving Marion excellent field position.
It took only two plays, runs of 32 and 12 yards by Heidebrecht, to score again, stretching the margin to 27-3.
Facing third-and-10 at the Marion 45-yard line with :01.2 showing on the clock before the half, Howell avoided the Marion rush, rolled right, and launched a hail-Mary pass to the end zone that was caught by Daniel Lee for a touchdown. The extra point made the halftime score 27-10.
“We knew we’d given up a big play and they had gotten their confidence up a little bit, so we knew we had to come back out after halftime and crush it,” Regnier said.
That’s exactly what the Warriors did. After getting a first down on the opening drive of the second half, the Buffaloes were penalized for a chop block, and had to punt on fourth-and-20 from their own 28-yard line.
Sunrise picked up two first downs to advance to their own 49-yard line on their next possession, but failed to gain another yard against an unrelenting Warriors defense.
Taking over at the Marion 30-yard line after the punt, the Warriors drove 70 yards for the score. Heidebrecht ripped off a 40-yard run on a sweep left, and Carroll plunged in from the 1-yard line for the touchdown. Carroll took a pitch around right end for the two-point conversion, giving Marion a 35-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Sunrise opened the final quarter with the ball at their own 39-yard line. On second-and-3 from the 46-yard line, Howell was intercepted by Regnier, who brought the ball back to the 41-yard line.
Heidebrecht found Harper for a 27-yard completion to the Sunrise 14-yard line. The Warriors appeared to run a sweep right on the next play, but while the Buffaloes followed the flow, reserve running back Caleb Williams took the ball the other way on a wide-open jaunt to the end zone. The touchdown at the 10:07 mark made the score 41-10.
Zach Robson and Adam Janzen scored two more touchdowns for the Warriors, and Case added one more extra point to account for the 54-10 final score.
One reason for offensive outburst was the return of Marion senior offensive lineman Spencer Fugitt, who played his first game of the year after recovering from an off-season injury.
“Spencer is kind of the emotional barometer of the team,” Thierolf said. “He saw some things in the first four games he didn’t like, and he brings another level of intensity to us.”
What did Fugitt see while pacing the sidelines?
“Lack of effort — I couldn’t stand it,” Fugitt said. “Just sitting there knowing if they tried a little harder something might have opened up.”
Fugitt was just the spark the Warriors needed.
“By and large our offensive line was pretty dominant. They were pretty physical all night long,” Thierolf said.
Thierolf was glad to get playing time for all his players during the homecoming game Friday.
“Homecoming games are fun when you can get everybody in the game, and we got everybody in,” Thierolf said. “When you can do that, it makes a pretty good homecoming.”
Marion will be on the road Friday in Hutchinson to take on a tough Trinity Catholic team. The Warriors have been up and down compiling a 2-3 record, but Thierolf knows what team he wants to see on the field against Trinity Catholic.
“It better be the team that’s getting ready to play in the playoffs,” Thierolf said. “It better be the team that’s ready to play better than we did tonight, because it’s going to take that next week.”