HOBART — The Marion Giants football team accomplished more than most people expected this season, but it will best be remembered for how it became a final four team in Class 4A.
The 2020 Giants were the embodiment of Marion’s rallying cry since the days the program was led by legendary coach Mark Surface: Giants Fight Never Die.
With significant losses to graduation after last season, a new head coach and no time to work during the summer, expectations outside the Giants’ locker room were few.
However, coach James Bell’s primary expectation was for the Giants to give him maximum effort all the time and see where that led.
What followed was incredible growth, a sectional and regional championship and the opportunity to play in the Class 4A final four, something only three other teams in Marion football history had accomplished.
The Giants’ special season came to a disappointing end Friday night. A slow start led to a big early deficit and ultimately a 49-20 defeat at the hands of No. 7 Hobart in the Class 4A Northern Semistate.
Still, until the final seconds ran off the clock in The Brickyard, the Giants displayed the heart, fight and spirit that filled Bell with pride.
“Positivity. Strong will. Perseverance. Trustworthy. Each one of them has a heart of gold,” said Bell moments after delivering a heartfelt but final post-game message to the Giants in one end zone while Hobart celebrated its win at midfield.
“I’ve had a wonderful year just being around them with all the stuff that’s going on around us,” Bell continued. “Sticking together and being a team, just trying to teach them about what family truly means, being close to people and taking care of one another. It’s been special.”
The way the game started could be the next sequel to the Fast and Furious movie series.
Hobart’s senior quarterback, Riley Johnston, kept the ball on a read-option play and sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Just 18 seconds into the contest the Brickies led 7-0.
Marion senior Khalid Stamps took the ensuing kickoff and weaved his way through Hobart’s first line of defense, then outran the rest of the Brickies for a 79-yard return touchdown to even the game at 7-7 only 32 seconds in.
Johnston, who is committed to LSU as a pole vaulter next year, then dumped a short pass over the middle to senior receiver Zach Vode, who will play football at Western Michigan next fall. Vode broke a couple tackles and outran the Giants’ defense for a 64-yard touchdown on 1:28 into the first quarter to give Hobart a 14-7 lead.
The Giants first offensive series resulted in a three-and-out, but the Brickies’ Bobby Babcock blocked the punt and Vode fell on it in the end zone. Less than three minutes in, Hobart led 21-7.
Babcock, who’s committed to Illinois State, deflected Marion’s next punt, setting up a short field for Hobart. Six plays and 43 yards later, the Brickies moved in front 28-7 with a five-yard TD run by Tyler Turley, the first of three first half touchdowns for the senior running back.
“We started slow. I don’t know for whatever reason. We didn’t read well, kinda sluggish,” Bell said. “When you play good teams, like we talk about and work on, you’ve got to be on your best game and we just didn’t do that in the first quarter. When that happens it makes it tough on your football team.”
Stamps exploded through the middle of Marion’s line and raced through the Hobart defense for a 55-yard touchdown run with 1:27 to play in the first quarter. Vode blocked the extra point to keep Hobart on top 28-13.
Hobart then started to lean heavily on Turley, who finished the first half with 161 yards on 17 carries to go with his three touchdowns. For the game, Turley amassed 259 yards on 23 carries.
Johnston needed just 12 carries to gain 163 yards. He also completed 5-of-6 passes for just over 100 yards.
Hobart controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game and ran for 426 yards on 43 carries.
“We started slow and helped them look good. They’re a good football team and that’s they way it looked,” Bell said. “I know my kids and we were not reacting well. We did not react well in the first half, particularly defensively in the first quarter. It was like being stuck in mud.
“I told them that at halftime and they came out and we played better. That’s the thing about football, you never know,” he continued. “That’s why I love these kids. I’m never going to stop believing in that. As long as they give me everything they’ve got we can live with the result.”
The Giants played Hobart even in the second half. Malachi Silmon scored on a 10-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, then just over three minutes later, Hobart’s Braydon Carlson recovered a Turley fumble in the end zone to finish off the scoring.
After running for only 92 yards in the first half, Marion finished the game with 267 yards. Stamps capped his standout career for the Giants with 134 yards on 19 carries. Silmon finished with 19 carries for 79 yards, while junior quarterback Cubie Jones picked up 54 yards on just 6 carries.
Jones also complete two passes to Josh Balfour in the second half for 56 yards.
“They were a great team and the main thing they did was they had heart,” said Marion senior offensive and defensive lineman Johnny Davis of Hobart. “They came together as a team and played us harder than a lot of teams have. They came out from the jump and didn’t slow down. Hats off to them. It was a fair game, respect to them, they played a hard game.”
Davis, who received a scholarship offer from Butler earlier this week, clutched the game ball when asked to reflect on the season for he and his teammates.
“It’s indescribable,” he shared. “At the end of the day they’re my brothers and we’ve all got bigger things to do in life. We gave it shot, we made it to the final four this season, got sectional and regional championships.
“It was a great year. It didn’t come out like we wanted it to but we gave it a shot and it will always be remembered,” he added.
And remembering what the Giants accomplished was the most important part of Bell’s post-game message. Many of his 22 seniors had shed tears as he spoke.
“They have positive energy. Nobody enjoys defeat,” Bell said. “I tell them you’ve got to continue to fight, win graciously and you’ve also got to lose with a professional integrity, and I appreciate them doing that. It’s going to hurt for a while. I am proud of them and I love every one of them.
“It’s tough road and we overcame a lot of obstacles,” he added. “Those are the things they should remember as they get older and they can tell that story, that hey we did this in 2020. They can tell their kids about it and it will be special.”