by Ben Murphy
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Marion is set to play number one ranked Powers North Central on Saturday in the Division 2 8-man state semi-finals. Sound familiar? That’s because this exact match-up has happened in the exact round of the playoffs in each of the last two years’ as well. Third ranked Marion (11-0 overall) is of course hoping for a different result with the Jets (11-0) this time around however, as they lost 73-8 last year and fell 50-2 in 2020. This year’s game will be at home with a 1 p.m. kickoff.
“Everyone has been talking that hey, maybe the third time is the charm,” head coach Chad Grundy said. “Everyone is still excited to still be playing football and some of these guys, this will be their ninth or 10th playoff game of their careers. They’ve played more than another season in the playoffs in their careers now.”
They’ll have to tap into every square inch of that experience to slow down the powerhouse Jets. The two-time defending state champions have outscored their opponents 589-29 this year and have five shutouts on defense, and have yet to give up more than one score in any game. Senior quarterback Luke Gorzinksi has once again been one of the best players in the state, torching teams with big-play after big-play with his arm or his legs. In the post-season, North Central has a 54-6 win over Stephenson and took down Lake Linden-Hubbell last week, 45-6.
“They are still one of the best teams around,” Grundy said. “Their quarterback is a four year starter and has two state titles already. He is a handful and we are really going to have to contain him. Their entire offense runs through him, running and throwing and they rely on him on defense with him putting pressure on your offense.”
Knowing first hand just how challenging the Jets can be could prove to be beneficial for the squad though.
“I think it helps (playing them before) helps a little bit, because we know what to expect with them,” Grundy said. “We had talked before with our guys about withstanding the wave at the beginning because they are going to try to come out like gang busters. They try to hit a home run play right off the bat. If we can withstand that at the beginning it should be a good game for us.”
One thing that is noticeably different this year however is the fact that Marion gets to host this time around. They’ll gladly have the Jets make the five hour 300-plus mile trip down to their home field.
“I tell you what, that was one of our goals, that if we went 9-0 that we might be able to host this game,” Grundy said. “Any time you can do your normal routine, it is nice to do that and not have to travel five or six hours. And stay in a hotel the night before and all the distractions that come with being on the road.”
The weather is expected to be cooled off by Saturday, and the dry week has given Marion’s field some much needed time to heal.
“It is going to be cold (high of 37 degrees), but it is going to be dry,” Grundy said. “We did get some work done on our field on Sunday, and while it isn’t in great shape it is well improved than what it was on Friday night.”
Are the Eagles underdogs heading into this one? Maybe. However, that’s not slowing them down from taking on a chance to get a spot in the state championship game.
“We are going to give it our best shot,” Grundy said. “It is going to be a tall task abut we have the pieces to do it if we play well.”