Justin Strong ran for 187 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and the Althoff defense stopped Marion twice in the red zone in the fourth quarter as the Crusaders held off Marion 32-28 in a South Seven Conference football game Friday night.
The Crusaders improved to 5-1 overall and are 2-1 in South Seven play. Marion fell to 3-3 overall and is also 2-1 in the conference.
“We wanted to come out in the second half and play better,” said Althoff coach Ken Turner. “Special teams played great in the first half, but we wanted the offense to score some points in the second half, and we were able to do that.”
Althoff also shut down Marion’s offense after the Wildcats had taken a 28-20 lead in the third period.
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Strong’s two touchdowns came within a span of 63 seconds in the third quarter on runs of 27 and 6 yards, the second coming after a partially blocked punt that gave the Crusaders the ball at the Wildcats 40.
“We had some trouble moving the ball a little bit in the third quarter, and those two quick scores they got were big,” said Marion coach Kerry Martin. “We just made too many mistakes.”
Marion threatened twice in the fourth quarter, getting stalled once by a bad snap on fourth down and throwing an interception on a fourth-down pass in the end zone with less than two minutes left.
The game started off slow, with Althoff managing only a 40-yard field goal by Stone Galloway in the first quarter to lead 3-0.
Marion took the lead on the first of four touchdown passes, a 26-yard strike to Jaden Lacy to make the score 7-0. That’s when Althoff’s special teams took over. Strong took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to make the score 10-7 with 9:38 left.
Less than two minutes later, Iverson Brown returned a punt 63 yards for a score, and the Crusaders led 17-7. Another Galloway field goal, this one from 47 yards out, added to the Althoff advantage.
But Fletcher to Lacy was just getting started. The two hooked up on a 40 yard pass, followed immediately by a 22-yard touchdown pass to make the score 20-14 with 3:28 to go in the first half.
After taking over on a punt at their own 28, the Wildcats went 72 yards in less than a minute and a half, with Fletcher hitting Lacy with a 17-yard touchdown pass with 5 seconds left to give Marion a 21-20 halftime lead.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 28-20 on their first possession of the second half, capping a 62-yard drive with a 40-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Lacy.
Strong, a Southern Illinois University commit, helped the Crusaders take control with touchdowns on their next two drives to take the lead.
“That’s why he’s a Division I football player,” said Turner of Strong. “I could probably put him in the backfield, but he’s such a good receiver. I like to use him anywhere I can.”
Along with Strong, Deandre Lenard had 61 yards rushing for the Crusaders. Connor Sheehan was 5 of 16 for just 62 yards.
Fletcher completed 19 of 35 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Lacy led Marion with 51 yards rushing and caught nine passes for 194 yards. Drake Gravatt ran for 50 yards, while Dylan Kinell had seven catches for 110 yards.