Failing to produce a first down while falling behind 14-0 at halftime, Marmion's football team regrouped in a big way in the second half.
Senior quarterback Brock Krueger's 4-yard touchdown run with 1:57 remaining capped a 5-play, 64-yard drive that gave the Cadets (8-3) a 20-14 lead over Prairie Ridge in Saturday's Class 6A second-round playoff clash.
The Cadets' first lead of the game was short-lived, however, as the Wolves (7-4) marched 60 yards in 4 plays to tie the game on quarterback Brett Covalt's 28-yard TD pass to Danny Meikel with 59.2 seconds left.
Junior Chris Eschweiler delivered the all-important PAT kick and the Wolves escaped with a 21-20 triumph in Crystal Lake.
"It was a do-or-die situation," said Meikel, who caught the pass while falling backward looking into the sun. "It was a slant-go. I was thinking of my teammates because we all wanted it so bad. It's one of the greatest feelings ever."
Relying heavily on the triple-option attack, the completion was just the second of the game in 6 pass attempts for the Wolves, who will face top-seeded Rockford Boylan (11-0) in next week's 6A quarterfinals.
"We didn't expect that pass there at the end," said Marmion 2-way standout Mike Montalbano.
"The kid made a great catch," added Cadets coach Dan Thorpe, whose team suffered its fourth postseason loss in 7 years to Prairie Ridge.
It was a fitting finish for the Wolves, who have now won 5 consecutive games after a 2-4 start and will take on top-seeded and undefeated Rockford Boylan in next week's quarterfinals after Boylan spoiled an all-Fox Valley Conference quarterfinal with a 17-10 win over Cary-Grove Saturday.
"It was like the playoffs in Week 7 for us," said Meikel. "It was do-or-die in the last three weeks of the regular season otherwise we wouldn't have made the playoffs.
"I guess we like the pressure."
Prairie Ridge controlled the first half, scoring a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to grab a 14-0 lead. Brent Anderson (13 carries, 84 yards) found the end zone on a 23-yard run and Covalt (31 carries, 116 yards) added a 2-yard keeper with 1:28 left in the opening half.
Limited to 34 yards of total offense in the first half, the Cadets got on track in the second half.
Krueger, who passed for 202 of his 217 yards in the second half, connected with Tyler Eberth on a 37-yard strike for the Cadets' first score midway through the third quarter.
But the extra-point kick sailed wide left, leaving the Cadets trailing 14-6.
Defensive end Nick Ferraro's fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter helped thwart a Prairie Ridge drive.
Taking over at their own 31, the Cadets put together a 13-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by Krueger's 15-yard TD pass to Josh Meyers.
The drive included a pair of 4th-and-8 conversions -- a 9-yard reception by Montalbano and an 11-yard catch by Meyers.
Montalbano caught the subsequent 2-point pass from Krueger in heavy traffic as the Cadets tied it at 14-14 with 7:25 remaining.
"I decided to cut it up and Brock (Krueger) found me," said Montalbano. "It was a good read."
Montalbano returned to make a 46-yard catch on a 3rd-and-6 play with a little more than 2 minutes left during the Cadets' go-ahead touchdown drive.
"We could've shut down but everybody knew that this could be our last game so we came out and stuck it to them," said Montalbano.
Unfortunately, the Wolves returned the favor a few moments later to save their season while ending the Cadets'.
"What a credit to our kids," Thorpe said of his team's second-half comeback. "It wasn't me or the (halftime) speech. It was the tremendous class and character of the players.
"I'm a lucky guy to be a part of these kids."