By Jeff Dahn
MARION – The state’s leading rusher recorded what is believed to be a state record for the number of carries in a single game, and almost single-handily carried La Porte City Union to a district championship Friday night.
Union junior running back Wes Burnside carried the ball a mind- and body-numbing 58 times for 315 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Class 3A eighth-ranked Knights past No. 5 Marion, 41-35, to claim the District 5 championship in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Marion’s Thomas Park Field.
It is believed the 58 totes in one game is a state record, although the number of carries in a game is not an official stat the state keeps.
“I’m pretty sore,” a disbelieving Burnside said after being informed of his number of totes on the cool mid-October evening. “Never in my life (had he carried that many times before) but I kind of expected it.”
Burnside scored TDs on runs of 2, 4 and 3 yards, and that last one with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game proved to be the game-winner. His 315 yards gives him an unofficial 1,913 for the season, tops in the state regardless of class. He has also scored 26 TDs.
“He’s a good running back; I’d say he’s a great running back,” Union Coach Joe Hadacek said. “You’ve got to go with what works and he’s a workhorse. I wasn’t planning on giving him that many carries, but if that’s what it took to win the game, we were going to pull out all stops.”
Burnside has 230 carries in eight games, an average of almost 29 per game.
Union (8-0, 6-0 District 5) finished with 425 yards of total offense – 355 on the ground – against a Marion defense that had allowed an average of just over six points a game coming in.
The total yards and points scored weren’t the main topic of conversation after the game. That conversation was dominated by Burnside’s number of carries.
“Fifty-eight carries? I don’t know how the kid survives,” Marion Coach Tony Perkins said. “He’s a very good back, he really is, and they run that offense very well. He’s very durable but I can’t understand how he can survive running 58 carries.”
Marion (7-1, 5-1) had its 22-game regular season winning streak snapped with its first loss since Week 3 of the 2008 season. The Indians put up 330 total yards of offense in a game that featured four lead changes and three ties.
Both teams turned the ball over three times apiece, but all three of Marion’s came in the second half and one, a pass interception by Union’s Brad Siebel, gave the Knights the ball on the Indians’ 26-yard-line and led to the winning touchdown.
“We had a few kids just not ready to play tonight,” Perkins said. “Our defensive tackles really did not come to play and we made some silly mistakes on the offensive side of the ball. You can’t do that when you’re playing quality teams. They were undefeated, we were undefeated and it was a great football game, but we had our chances.”
Union led, 17-14, at halftime after a 4-yard TD run from sophomore quarterback Trev Hadacek, Burnside’s 2-yard plunge and 30-yard field goal from Reid Monroe. Marion’s first half TDs came on a 2-yard run from sophomore Trev Biery and a 65-yard pass from Tyler Fisher to Tre Kinney.
The third quarter was wild from start-to-finish with the two teams combining for 36 points. It ended with the Indians leading 35-32, thanks to a 66-yard touchdown dash off an option-keeper from Fisher, a 16-yard run from Dusty Albaugh and a 59-yard scoring dash from back-up QB Cale Cannoy off yet another option quarterback-keep.
Burnside and Hadacek scored on 4- and 3-yard runs in the period for Union.
Union tied the game at 35 on a 22-yard field goal from Monroe with 7:21 left in the game and won it on Burnside’s 3-yard carry, his 57th of the night at the time. The Knights’ Hunter Zempel picked off a Fisher pass to effectively end the game in the closing seconds.
The Indians totaled 257 rushing yards, led by Fisher with 73 on five carries, Albaugh with 60 on nine carries and Cannoy with 59 on two carries. Colton Storla, the Indians’ 1,000-yard rusher, was limited to 46 yards on 16 totes.
Fisher completed just 2 of 12 passes for 73 yards, including the 65-yard TD pass to Kinney.
Marion finishes the regular season next Friday at Maquoketa. The Indians won Friday’s sophomore game 38-21.