Prep Football

Marion looks to "super seniors" in attempt to reach playoffs

QB Trevor Paulsen expects to be catalyst for Indians offense in his third varsity season

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MARION — Marion Coach Tim Lovell inherited a winless program and led it to the cusp of the postseason in each of his first two seasons.

In Lovell’s first season at the helm, a group of sophomores joined the varsity ranks and have played a key role in the Indians’ turnaround after 17 straight losses during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

The youngsters are now veterans, holding the reins and playoff hopes in their hands.

“We’re really excited about this year,” Lovell said. “We’ve got some seniors, who are really super seniors and have been at the varsity level in the program (for three years) — our quarterback Trevor Paulsen, Nate Miller, a linebacker and lineman Nick Cole.

“We’re looking for great leadership from them, along with the entire senior class, which has been around for quite some time and know of the expectations.”

Marion returns plenty of experience, including 10 starters from last season and 16 seniors on the current roster. The Indians will try to improve last season’s 6-3 record, opening the season at Washington (Iowa) on Aug, 24.

“We’ve got a good group of guys with experience,” Paulsen said. “We’re hoping this year will be the year we get in and do some stuff in the playoffs.”

The Indians haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013. They have recorded winning seasons since Lovell took over, going 5-4 in his opening campaign. A postseason appearance seems like the next step for the program.

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“We want to be the first ones,” Miller said. “We’ve had a couple good runs the last couple years and I think we should be able to get it done this year.”

Paulsen will be a big factor, like he has since he earned the starting spot midway through his sophomore season. The all-district and all-Metro QB threw for 1,448 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He added 322 yards and six TDs on the ground.

“I think it’s going to come down to what our quarterback does for us,” Lovell said. “He has gotten some higher-level looks from a college standpoint. He’s really comfortable in our offense. I think we’re going to go as he goes.”

The offense will run more of a spread look this season, using a quicker tempo and avoiding going under center as often as a year ago. The focus has been on four to six seconds per play and tailoring things around that concept.

“Trevor does a great job of putting the ball in the hands of the guys who are open,” Lovell said. “I don’t feel like we are going to step back at all. It comes down to being efficient.”

Graduation has depleted much of the receiving corps, including top pass catchers in Blair Brooks (42-592-9), Chris Mohwinkle (16-288-4) and Grant Meth (17-184-4). Mohwinkle was also the team’s leading rusher with 877 yards on 88 carries and 11 TDs.

Mitch McAllister (6-92) is the top returning receiver and Mason Rahe is the only one back with a TD catch. Mark Korcher is expected to join McAllister and Rahe as targets for Paulsen.

“We definitely lost some pretty good guys on the ends,” Paulsen said. “I’ve thrown to a lot of these guys my whole life and I have confidence in them. We have some younger guys that will play and will hopefully step up to be big for us as well.”

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JuCorey Higgins is the top returning rusher from last year, amassing 504 yards and two TDs on 70 carries. He also had 63 receiving yards. Junior Isaac Cechota could step in and serve a role similar to Mohwinkle.

Defensively, Marion returns five of its top eight tacklers. Cole, who actually played some as a freshman, tied for second on the team with 54 1/2 stops. Miller was just two behind. Lovell said Miller was the engine to the defense from his linebacker spot.

“He’s high-energy,” Lovell said. “He’s high-effort and he knows what we’re doing. He’s a real leader for us.”

Cole, Miller and Connor Whalen will be counted on to be defensive leaders, according to Lovell. Marion has shown the ability to score, but struggled stopping good teams, especially strong rushing teams. A stingier defense will help playoff chances.

“We have some big boys up front,” Cole said. “We have linebackers who have been playing for three years.

“I think defense will be a strength this year.”

Marion faces a stiff schedule, including non-district games against West Delaware and at Solon. The Indians play their toughest district foes in the final three weeks, including defending state champ Cedar Rapids Xavier.

“Our level of expectation is very high,” Lovell said. “We have a very challenging district, but I think everyone is really excited about the opportunity.”

Marion, at a glance

Coach: Tim Lovell (3rd year, 11-7)

Last year: 6-3

Top returners: QB Trevor Paulsen, DL Nick Cole, OL/DL Dalton Cannon, OL Brevin Hahn, LB Nate Miller, OL/DL Nate Turner, WR/DB Mitch McAllister, WR/LB Mason Rahe, RB/LB JuCorey Higgins, CB/WR Connor Whalen, WR Mark Horcher, RB/DB Patrick Bleadorn, DL Devon Parrott, WR/DB Austin Greist

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Key to making the playoffs: Marion needs big production from quarterback Trevor Paulsen and the emergence of new receiving targets. The Indians’ run defense will need to be stronger in order to earn victories in non-district play and the final three weeks.

Games to watch: With the new format to determine playoff qualifiers, the four tough non-district games are important, especially West Delaware and Solon. The final three weeks are the most important, facing road games at Dubuque Wahlert and Western Dubuque before the regular-season finale with defending state champion Xavier at home.

Schedule

Aug. 24 — at Washington

Aug. 31 — West Delaware

Sept. 7 — at Solon

Sept. 14 — Clear Creek Amana

Sept. 21 — at Center Point-Urbana

Sept. 28 — Maquoketa

Oct. 5 — at Dubuque Wahlert

Oct. 12 — at Western Dubuque

Oct. 19 — Cedar Rapids Xavier

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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