There were a lot of reasons why the Marion Wildcats football team could have fallen to 0-4. A 90-minute lightning delay, a less than spectacular performance in the first half and a seeming knack to be snakebitten this season.
However, the Wildcats dug deep, making several important plays in the second half including two in the final four minutes, and beat Cahokia 23-20 in the South Seven Conference opener. Marion improved to 1-3 while Cahokia fell to 2-2.
“We’ve played better than our record and had nothing to show for it,” said Marion coach Kerry Martin. “The first half we looked horrible. I challenged them, and I’m real proud of the way they responded.”
After falling behind 20-15 with just under eight minutes left on Wayne Grant’s third touchdown pass of the game, a 5-yarder to Elijah Rice, the Wildcats went on the march.
Ten plays and 69-yards later, Jaden Lacy scored on a 6-yard counter run to give Marion a 21-20 lead. Jacob Schmid ran in the 2-point conversion to make the score 23-20.
“I wanted them to fight back,” Martin said. “I wanted them to fight for the program and for who we are and I challenged them. There’s no way around it and I think they responded.”
Then it was time for the defense to respond, something it had done since two early Comanche scores. On fourth and inches with just under two minutes left. Xavier Cambric jarred the ball loose from Grant on a quarterback sweep. And while Grant recovered the loose ball, it wasn’t close to a first down and Marion ran out the clock.
“He has played so well, and tonight played so well on defense, and offense,” Martin said. “We missed him last year and you guys know that. There was big void without him on the field. He can do things that other guys can’t do. We need that closing speed on defense.”
The Wildcats took 15-12 lead in the third quarter, putting together a 51-yard drive to score on a Cambric 6-yard run. Just two plays later, Cambric picked off a Wayne Grant pass to give the Wildcats the ball back.
Cahokia got two seemingly easy touchdowns in the first quarter on passes of 29 and 34 yards by Grant. The first was to Demarion Hinkle and the second was to Rice. Both were wide open on missed coverages, something that Martin talked about.
“Mistakes, mental mistakes,” Martin said. “The inconsistency. It’s happened time and time and time again and it plagued us in the first half.”
Marion’s lone first-half score was right after the first Cahokia touchdown, when Lacy ran the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown.
And the defense stepped up after the first quarter. Cahokia’s nine drives ended in three punts, two interceptions and two turnovers on down.
“They’ve made plays all year,” said Marion of the defense. “It’s just a matter of the offense putting some points on the board and giving them a chance to get off the field. The defense won the game tonight.”
Cahokia outgained Marion 379 to 272, including 312 yards on 19-for-31 passing by Grant. Hinkle had nine catches for 149 yards and a score and Rice had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. But the Commanches managed only 67 yards rushing.
Marion got 208 rushing yards. Lacy had 62 yards, while Caden Hilliard had 50, Cambric 41 and Schmid 40.