EDWARDSVILLE — Down to their last breath, the Edwardsville Tigers extended their postseason lives Saturday.
Junior quarterback Dan Marinko scored on a 22-yard run with 54.2 seconds to play in the game, giving the Tigers a come-from-behind 21-14 victory over Lincoln-Way East, of Frankfort, in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoffs.
Marinko's touchdown, which was followed by his two-point conversion run, came just 1:01 after the Griffins had taken their first lead of the game at 14-13 with 1:55 left.
"We all believed in each other," Marinko said of the Tigers' offense. "We got together before we went out there and we all looked at each other in the eyes and we knew we were going to be able to do it.
"It's a great team effort. Everybody out there made plays."
The Tigers (12-0) advanced to the semifinals and will play host to Chicago Mount Carmel (11-1) on Saturday at a time to be determined. Mount Carmel defeated Downers Grove North 7-0 in another quarterfinal Saturday.
Edwardsville began its winning drive on its 34-yard line, but was faced with third-and-8 from the 36 as time ran down.
Marinko then hit junior Fontez Davis with consecutive passes, the first covering 20 yards and the second going for 22 yards. That put the Tigers at the Lincoln-Way East 22, where Marinko called his own number.
"It was a called draw play. We just ran it up the gut," said Marinko, who rushed 22 times for 151 yards. "It had been working a little bit for us and we came back to it.
"Fontez had two amazing catches (on the drive) and Darius (Crochrell) had a great block on that last run. The O-line did a great job, too. It all came together."
Things looked bleak for Edwardsville when the Griffins (7-3), after being pinned on their own 2 and staring at a third-and-10, culminated a 98-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown dive by senior Brian Casey with 2:04 remaining.
Casey's score and senior Anthony Sciarini's PAT gave Lincoln-Way East, which trailed 13-0 at halftime, a 14-13 lead.
Junior quarterback Mike Weller's 30-yard run kept alive the drive, and Weller followed with four straight completions --three to junior Paul Gossage --that got Lincoln-Way East to the Tigers' 12.
Weller then rushed two times in a row to get the ball to the 1, setting up Casey's touchdown.
"We were exhausted," Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. "They were moving plays one after another. I'm proud of the kids that they kept fighting.
"They're a great program; they're a great football team. They're tough to do things against. You have plans, but they limit a lot of what you do."
After taking the lead, Edwardsville quickly got the ball back when senior Craig James picked off a pass by Weller. But the Griffins had all three of their timeouts, and the Tigers punted and Lincoln-Way East got possession on its 3 with 9.9 seconds left.
Weller hit senior Austin Winkler with a 51-yard pass, and the clock stopped to move the chains and place the ball with 0.4 seconds to play. That gave Lincoln-Way East one final chance, but Weller's pass into the end zone was incomplete.
Several Lincoln-Way players were in tears after the Tigers' stunning victory. Last year, the Griffins eliminated Edwardsville 40-10 in the semifinals.
"We can't compliment Coach Martin and his program more," Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said. "It's one thing to have great athletes all over the field, but it's another thing to have great athletes who are extremely well-coached and are excellent football players --and he's got a whole mess of them.
"At the same time, I can't say enough about this group. I've been doing this 20 years now and I'm so proud of the guys for their resiliency, their perseverance and the championship attitude they had (after) getting down 13-0 against a team that's as good as we've seen this year in the state."
The Tigers took a 7-0 lead with 8:36 to play in the first quarter on senior Elijah Crockett's 11-yard touchdown. Junior Trentan Daley made second-quarter field goals of 27 yards and 36 yards to make it 13-0 at halftime. Daley's 36-yard field was good despite hitting the right post.
The Griffins, who were held to 38 total yards in the first half, finally began pecking away at the Tigers in the third quarter.
Junior Kenny Alexa faked a punt and ran for 22 yards on Lincoln-Way East's second possession of the third quarter, and it set up a 5-yard run on a pitch to senior Jordan Wirtz that made it 13-7 with 7:19 left in the period.
Neither team could sustain a drive until the Griffins took their short-lived lead. But Edwardsville abruptly stole it away.
"This is probably what high-school football is all about --games like this tonight," Zvonar said. "It's why we do what we do. We're heartbroken, but we know heartache and disappointment are part of athletics and part of life."
Martin is looking forward to the game against Mount Carmel.
"They're another excellent program," he said. "It's not getting easier, is it?"
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.