The Marion County Warriors kicked off their season on Friday night against the East Ridge Pioneers. While the Warriors ended their night on the right side of things with a 41-12 victory over the Pioneers, this might not be looked back on as their best outing by season’s end.
The field was littered with penalty flags most of the night, where the officials – who called 20 total penalties for the night, starting barely a minute into the game on an offside call against the Pioneers inside their own 45 – made more throwing attempts than either quarterback for the night.
“A lot of it is first game chronicles, man,” Warriors head coach Tim Starkey said. “We just … technique is off. We got to be better. Monday, we’ll clean it up. First game, it’s just hard to push them and them not being really conditioned because of the weather. We got work to do and we know that. They’re ready to play. They just did undisciplined things. I think it’s just the first game, adrenaline. We’ll get it fixed.”
The first game woes weren’t just from penalties, though. On the Warriors first drive, they turned the ball over, fumbling on the Pioneers 38-yard-line. The Warriors very next drive ended similarly, when deep in Pioneers territory with less than a minute left in the quarter, Tilton Pickett threw an interception, his first of two on the night.
The Pioneers coughed up the ball only three plays later, setting Marion County up with excellent field position just as the first quarter was coming to an end.
In almost a two-minute, 10-play drive later, the Warriors were the first to put points on the board after running back Brody Leonard ran the ball three yards for pay dirt, making 7-0.
The stingy Pioneers defense that only allowed an average of 15.8 points a game in their last six games last season, gave up another score less than three minutes later after they went three-and-out on the subsequent drive. This time, it would be running back EJ Wilson hitting the endzone after the Warriors drove 49-yards down the field, making it 14-0 Warriors.
When talking to Starkey before the season started, he noted that one of the squad’s biggest challenges last season was their defense “getting off the grass.” The Warriors gave up an average of 23.9 points a game last season. On Friday, they pretty much cut that number in half, and a large part of that was due to plays like junior Sam Pickett making an interception at the Warriors 45-yard-line, carrying it to the 42, with 4:02 left in the half.
“Defense played their tails off,” Starkey said.
The very next play, Pickett threw a 38-yard pass to Leonard that got the Warriors inside the 5-yard-line, followed by a Leonard score on the next one. It would be his second of what would be three touchdowns on the night for the senior.
“I got to give credit to the line,” Leonard said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without them. The wide receivers are always blocking good, too.”
The Warriors defense, who looked strong all night, started off the second half with a Brayden Abney interception right at the 50-yard-line, only three plays into the Pioneers opening second-half drive. However, the Warriors couldn’t do anything with it.
It wasn’t until a little over mid-way through the third quarter that there was another score. This time it was East Ridge, after what looked like a would-be interception was tipped by a Warrior defender that eventually landed in the arms of a Pioneer receiver, making it 21-6 after Marion County blocked the extra point.
It was pretty much all Marion County after that, as on the ensuing drive, the Warriors went up 27-6 when Pickett found Leonard once again for a 38-yard touchdown reception. The Warriors missed the extra point.
The Warriors then recovered a fumble on the kickoff, although Pickett threw his second interception of the night on the following play. Pickett made up for it once again on the Warriors next drive when he hit EJ Wilson for a 46-yard touchdown, making it 34-6 after the extra point.
The Pioneers would put one more score on the board after the Warriors put their younger substitutions in. But the Warriors would still have the final say, when Sam Pickett scored on the ensuing kickoff, leaving only 6:58 left to play, and the final score 41-12.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for the Warriors in game one. But like Starkey said, they’d rather be on the side of a sloppy win than an ugly loss.
Next week the Warriors head to Dade County to face the Wolverines, who are 0-1 after losing to Athens Academy in their first game.
Photos courtesy of Gene Fuller.