Week 1: Marion 40, Herrin 7
Wildcats roar to opening day win over Herrin
Marion pitched a near shutout in the season opener as the Wildcats rolled to a 40-7 win at Herrin. The teams hadn't met in 10 years and Marion took charge early, as Deavon Margrum and Lukas Shrum each punched in scores from four yards out, and the Wildcats converted on both two-point conversion attempts.
Patrick Walker opened the second half by going 99 yards on the kickoff, and another two-point conversion gave Marion a 24-0 advantage. A few minutes later, Marion struck again, this time as Evan Noelle hooked up with Venson Newsom on a 23-yard reception. Their final score of the game came on a one-yard carry by Jordyn Beverly.
Herrin was able to get on the scoreboard late in the fourth when Cameron Evrard scored on a two-yard run, and Riley Sims kicked the point after. Marion opened the 2021 season with 225 yards of total offense and Noelle went 8-for-11 with 115 yards and one touchdown.
Week 2: Marion 64, Jerseyville, 29
Wild night of scoring leaves no doubt
Bursting onto the field at Wildcat Stadium in camouflage jerseys for the 2021 home opener, it didn't take the Marion Wildcats long to establish dominance over the Jersey Panthers. The Cats wasted no time as a Walker Fox interception on Jersey's first possession led to a 27-yard touchdown pass from Evan Noelle to Venson Newsom. It was the first of four TD passes Noelle would toss on the night.
Following a Panther fumble Newsom then returned a 53-yard punt for a TD. Mason Norris recovered another Panther fumble, leading to a Brody Larson score. Jersey got the board late in the first but another Noelle to Newsom pass secured Marion's fourth touchdown.
Jersey had a touchdown in the second quarter but the Wildcats came back with 29 unanswered points. Noelle tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mason Gooch and Cole Bundren ran in from the 3. At the half the Wildcats were up 58-14. The clock ran continuously in the second half, but there was still time for Marion's final score -- a 72-yard scoring run by Patrick Walker.
Week 3: Marion 48, Highland 28
Noelle, Newsom put on air show
Evan Noelle was 20 for 28 passing with four touchdowns, no interceptions and 310 total yards in this game, in which Venson Newsom was his favorite target, with nine catches for 187 yards and three TDs.
Keeping Highland back on its heels, however, was the ground game, led by Lukas Shrum who rushed for 248 yards.
Marion had a 28-7 lead going into halftime, helped by Newsom's two scores: He caught a Noelle pass and ran 63 yards for a TD; and then made a 50-yard score on another long pass. A short TD run by Deavon Margrum (after a 50-yard run by Shrum and an 18-year pass from Noelle to Walker Fox), and a 9-yard pass to Fox wrapped up the first half scoring.
Newsom scored again in the second half, with a 28-yard pass from Noelle. For good measure, on defense Newsom made an interception, and he had a key tackle that forced Highland to give up the ball on downs.
Highland got its offense working but Marion kept answering the Bulldog scores with scores of their own, including a two-yard run by Brody Larson. A key fumble by Highland on the 2-yard line was recovered by Wildcat Michael Gunn, and moments later Shrum scampered for a 84-yard TD.
Week 4: Cahokia 30, Marion 8
Wheels come off, as Comanches shock Wildcats
On paper, it looked like a Marion victory. On the field, it was anything but. Marion fell behind 16-0 in the first quarter, trailed 22-0 at the half and 30-0 with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter.
"We came out a little flat and they came out and hit us in the mouth and we didn't respond very well," Marion Coach Kerry Martin said bluntly. "By the time we got our bearings we were down three touchdowns."
The Wildcats' one bit of sunshine was a 32-yard touchdown pass from Brody Larson to Tommy Wiseman with 29.7 seconds in the third. Larson also ran in the two-point conversion.
Marion was held to just 92 total yards and six first downs. Cahokia had 196 yards rushing and 158 yards passing and converted 8-of-12 third downs.
Week 5: Marion 44, Mt. Vernon 7
Pity the Mt. Vernon Rams ...
... Who caught the Wildcats the week after an ego-bruising loss. Before the first half was over, Marion had five touchdowns and a safety, while the Rams punted six times. Venson Newsom returned the second-half kickoff 75 yards for a TD, and there was a running clock the whole second half.
Quarterback Evan Noelle hit seven different receivers and completed 12 of 16 throws. Lukas Shrum had 96 yards on seven carries, with a 5-yard TD and a 34-yard score; Deavon Margrum ran one into the end zone; Mason Gooch took an 18-yard throw from Noelle in for a TD; and Cole Bundren scored. The safety was the work of Michael Gunn and Mason Norris, who tagged Rams quarterback Payton McMillen in the end zone.
Week 6: Marion 49, Althoff Catholic 14
Offense cashes in on defensive gems
Tyler Cima, Walker Fox, Jake Bruce and Mason Gooch all picked off Althoff quarterback Alex Poettker to help the Wildcats build a 28-0 lead by halftime. Cima's pick led to a 5-yard touchdown run by Brody Larson, who also went in from 3 yards to make it 14-0. After Fox's interception, Venson Newsom grabbed a 43-yard pass from Noelle for a TD. After Bruce's interception, Shrum broke free for a 27-yard score.
Marion's defense held when Althoff went on a large march at the end of the second quarter and got the ball back when Gooch collected his interception.
The Wildcats added to their lead with a 22-yard run by Tommy Wiseman. Then Newsom made a pair of highlight-reel catches, the latter resulting in a 41-yard touchdown. The 6-3 senior finished with four catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Noelle had 225 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Week 7: Marion 37, Centralia 6
Victory seals 16th straight postseason appearance
The offense ran like clockwork, but Marion's defense also stepped up once again, with three interceptions and several forced punts.
Centralia scored once, when Amir Johnson ran back a kickoff 93 yards, but that was the last they were heard from. Marion, meanwhile, scored on a Brody Larson 2-yard run; a kickoff return by Mason Gooch that also went 93 yards; a Lukas Shrum run-after-catch; a Deavon Margrum 5-yard score; and 31-yard TD throw from Evan Noelle to Tommy Wiseman in the fourth.
Noelle hit 12 of 19 passes for 180 yards. The interceptions were by Walker Fox, Venson Newsom and Lucas Lenear.
Week 8: Marion 41, Carbondale 8
Turnovers, ground game mark victory over Terriers
Carbondale turnovers and a strong Marion ground game led by senior Lukas Shrum was enough to get it done, and by halftime the Terriers were down 38-0 and saying "basta." Shrum was a workhorse, with three rushing touchdowns in the rout, and 116 yards on 15 carries.
A Terrier fumble was recovered by Jordyn Beverly who ran it in for a TD. Brody Larson picked up another Terrier fumble and ran it in to score. Another defensive highlight was Jake Bruce intercepting a pass from Terrier quarterback Brock Bowlby. Chase Banks kicked a 21-year field goal.
Carbondale's Bowlby finally got the Terriers on the board in garbage time, when he completed a pass to William Skiles for a 21-yard touchdown.
Week 9: Marion 59, Mattoon 8
Marion hits stride in playoff tuneup game
Take away the first three minutes and the Wildcats played an almost perfect game, executing offense, defense and special teams in a calm, polished style that must have set off alarm bells in all their potential playoff challengers.
Marion got caught flat-footed by a surprise offensive set Mattoon employed on their opening drive, and by the time the Wildcats recovered Mattoon had scored on eight plays and completed a two-point conversion.
Nobody panicked. "Once my assistant coaches made the adjustments we took care of it," said Coach Kerry Martin. "Then our offense did their job and tied things up."
Specifically, the Wildcats went on to score 59 unanswered points -- scoring on eight of their 10 offensive series.
"It was a good thing before the playoffs to face someone that did something different," Martin said, "to force your kids to adjust on the fly."
The Wildcats passed for 301 yards with Evan Noelle completing 16 of 20 passes for 297 yards with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Venson Newsom caught seven passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns, including an 82-yard touchdown. Jake Bruce had five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Marion rushed for 116 yards with Tommy Wiseman the leader with 58 yards on three carries that included a 41-yard touchdown run.
Defensively the Wildcats forced four turnovers on three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Two of the interceptions and the fumble led to touchdowns.
Week 10: Marion 41, Metamora 8
Wildcats open playoffs with 'statement' win over Metamora
A rock-ribbed defense, Evan Noelle's four touchdown passes, good field position and a lack of penalties were the winning formula for Marion as the 5A playoffs opened at Wildcat Stadium. After ending their first offensive series with a punt, the Wildcats scored on their next six possessions to lead 7-0 after the first quarter, 35-0 at the half and 41-0 with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
Noelle completed 15 of 19 passes for 267 yards, with two touchdown passes to Venson Newsom and one each to Jake Bruce and Lukas Shrum. The junior also scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Newsom caught seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 79 yards with a long of 23. Bruce caught four of five for a team-high 95 yards with the other three catches going for first downs. Shrum caught one of two with the one good for 76 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter. He was also Marion's leading rusher with 45 yards on seven carries. Tommy Wiseman added 35 yards on five carries.
Defensively, the Wildcats held Metamora to just seven first downs and 37 yards passing with two interceptions by Bruce and Walker Fox.
Week 11: Marion 51, Mascoutah 21
Wildcat defense gangs up on hapless Mascoutah QB
The Wildcats forced six turnovers including an interception for a Pick-6, and quarterback Evan Noelle threw three touchdown passes as Marion beat Mascoutah in the second round, advancing Marion to the quarterfinals of the IHSA 5A football playoffs for the first time since 2007 and only the fourth time in program history.
"The games keep getting tougher and the kids keep rising to the occasion," said Marion coach Kerry Martin.
Noelle completed 16 of 21 passes for 305 yards with one interception. Noelle also rushed for 35 yards on seven carries with one touchdown.
Venson Newsom, who came into the game as the team's record holder in career touchdowns, catches and receiving yards, finished with four catches for 122 yards and a team record 16th touchdown catch of the season.
Newsom is certainly explosive, but he benefits from a cohesive offensive line in junior Garrett Berendson, senior Zach Opperman, junior Eli Vickery, senior Jackson White and senior Wyatt Nicholson.
Martin was over the moon about the turnovers. "Turnovers are not only getting the ball back, but it also changes the momentum of the game, changes field position and it can kill a drive," he said.
Marion led 30-0 with 3:47 left before halftime. Mascoutah broke the drought with a 68-yard TD pass, which Marion answered only 18 seconds later. After that, when Mascoutah scored Marion answered.