MARION — With one half left in their high school football careers, the five senior Linn-Mar offensive linemen got a message from assistant coach Travis Senters before the second-half kickoff.
“He pulled us senior linemen aside and told us that this was our game,” said Lions lineman Cole Wright, “We had a rotation going with some juniors in the first half. He told us it was ours to win or lose.”
The message got through. With Wright and fellow seniors Keegan Harris, Ethan Henrichs, Riley Higgins and Nick Abouassaly leading the way, the Lions running game came to life.
Linn-Mar rushed for just under 300 yards in the second half. Junior Alex Hess finished with 253 yards on 29 carries, including the go-ahead touchdown as the Lions rallied form a 7-0 halftime deficit to down Burlington, 28-7, Friday night at Linn-Mar Stadium.
The Lions finished up their first season under Coach Paul James at 2-7, 2-3 in Class 4A District 8 play.
James said it was simply a matter of the Lions figuring out a way to win.
“We challenged them at halftime,” James said. “It’s like they didn’t understand how to win. The seniors had to take the rest of the team on their back and find a way to win the game and have fun doing it.”
There was nothing fun about the first half for Linn-Mar. The Lions defense kept visiting Burlington (1-8, 1-4) in check with the exception of one play — a 92-yard TD pass from LT Beck to Cody Parrish, coming one play after the Lions’ third turnover of the first half.
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The Lions finally tied the game when Trot Carey scrambled away from pressure and found Cevan Walton in the end zone for a 32-yard scoring play with 5:55 left in the third quarter to tie the game.
Then Hess took over. He broke loose for a 75-yard TD run near the end of the third quarter. After Isaiah Garman scored on a 22-yard run early in the fourth, Hess put it away midway through the period with a 43-yard scamper up the middle.
Despite the final record, James said he enjoyed his first year at Linn-Mar after a storied career at Cedar Rapids Washington.
“We had great committment from the kids,” he said. “I think they really cared and I think we have to work in the future on learning how to win. I think they are quality kids and I hope they picked up a lot of lifelong lessons.”
That “learning to win” may have started with the effort of the 28 seniors who played their final game as Lions Friday night.