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Marmion's Tyler Eberth said his team had one word in mind going into Friday night's Suburban Christian Blue showdown with St. Francis.
You could add "resilient" to that mix, as the Cadets had plenty of both traits in holding on for a crucial 26-20 victory that wasn't decided until the final play of the game — the Marmion defensive line knocking down a Zach Prociuk pass on a desperation fourth-and-21 play at the Marmion 49-yard line.
Eberth did his share on the relentless side, intercepting a Prociuk pass in the first half and dashing 95 yards for a touchdown. The pick-six sparked life into a listless Cadets squad that was down 14-0 at the time, with about three minutes left before half.
"I was a little tired after that one, but it was fun," said Eberth, a 6-2 senior wideout and defensive back. "It was a game-changer."
For good measure, Eberth added a diving 5-yard touchdown reception that knotted the score at 20-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
It was fitting that Cadet quarterback Brock Krueger snuck in from one yard out with less than four minutes left to give Marmion its 26-20 lead.
Krueger ran 15 times for 80 yards in the game, stabilizing a Marmion offense that was having trouble establishing any attack against a stout St. Francis defense.
"It was the lineman getting the blocking schemes down and giving me really big holes," Krueger said. "It wasn't even really me, I was just getting a wide open field and doing what I could with it."
The win assures Marmion (6-1, 4-1) a trip to the state playoffs, leaving St. Francis (3-4, 1-4) in a tough spot with two weeks left in the season.
The host Cadets had to overcome the effort of Spartan tailback James Butler (18 carries, 128 yards), who scored the first two touchdowns of the game. He broke free for a 63-yard jaunt in the first quarter, and finished off a 59-yard Spartan drive early in the second quarter by leaping over the line and into the end zone from the 1-yard line on a fourth-and-goal.
St. Francis included "resilient" in its playbook after Eberth's pick-six cut the lead to 14-7. The Spartans marched 56 yards in the final three minutes of the half to score on a Prociuk 1-yard plunge with 21 seconds left.
But Marmion's defense blanked St. Francis in the second half, holding the Spartans to two first downs, and only 58 total yards.
In the meantime, the Cadet offense put together an impressive 60-yard drive, mostly on Krueger's keepers, one of which netted 25 yards. After Eberth's diving TD catch, Josh Meyers hit the upright on his extra point attempt to leave the score at 20-20.
The game's momentum shifted dramatically two plays later when Jordan Sullivan recovered a Butler fumble at the Marmion 40-yard line.
With Meyers and Jordan Glasgow churning up the yards, Krueger snuck in for his key touchdown with 3:47 left in the contest.
But the Cadets saved their most resilient acts for the final minute.
After Spartan Mike Shaw blocked a Marmion punt, the Spartans were set for their last gasp at the Marmion 48 with 2:15 left. But two key penalties on plays in which St. Francis was converting first downs ended up stalling the drive.
"The interception was really huge, but we put 19 points on the board in the second half after coming out of the locker room believing," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. "I give a lot of credit to our kids, it was a great comeback and a great win."
The game was delayed for several minutes early in the second half when St. Francis' Steven Fassnacht appeared to sustain a head or neck injury when making a tackle and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher.