It's first-round heartache for Antioch
Antioch's perfect football season came crashing to an end Friday night against a team that had been very imperfect up to that point.
Marian Central Catholic needed to win its last game of the regular season to qualify for the IHSA playoffs on points.
But in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs against host Antioch, the 5-4 Hurricanes certainly didn't look like a "we're just happy to be here" kind of team.
Marian Central came out in attack mode with some aggressive passing, and scored on its first possession. That set the tone for a thorough 31-9 victory over Antioch, which had just wrapped up its second straight undefeated regular season with a conference championship.
"I hope we're going to surprise some people (during the playoffs)," said Marian Central quarterback/running back Gavin Scott, who rushed for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries. "It's to our advantage if people think they're going to roll over us."
Antioch, which was hurt by 4 turnovers, wasn't making such assumptions.
The Sequoits knew they were in for a battle because Marian Central was not your typical 5-4 team. The Hurricanes had been without Scott for much of the season, but when they got him back, they ended the season with wins against Notre Dame, which was ranked in Class 8A this season, and St. Patrick.
Marian Central was also down its best running back and linebacker for much of the season.
On top of that, the Sequoits knew that Marian Central would be battle-tested having played in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference all season.
"We knew all about them," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said of Marian Central. "At the beginning of the season, they were one of the favorites to contend in 5A and to be ranked. If they hadn't had those injuries to key guys, we wouldn't be playing them in the first round. Essentially you have two top teams playing in the first round and that was too bad, but those are the breaks."
Antioch also couldn't catch a break in the turnover battle.
The Sequoits had 4 turnovers (3 fumbles and an interception) and Marian Central scored off of three of them.
"The turnovers hurt," Glashagel said. "We don't typically turn the ball over. Hardly ever more than once a game. Definitely not four. That's kind of our M.O., is that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot very often and we did tonight. They had one turnover and we had four and that's a huge difference.
"Marian Central made some great plays and they did a good job of not turning the ball over."
Marian Central scored once more in the first half, on a 25-yard second-quarter field goal by Matthew Darbro, to push their lead to 10-0 at the break.
Antioch, which was led in offense by running back Hunter Price (21 rushes for 82 yards), cut its deficit in the third quarter with a Jay Brown field goal (21 yards) that made the score 10-3.
But Marian Central came back with two straight scores to put the game out of reach. Bryce Radcliffe caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from AJ Golembiewski, who started when Scott was out and now shares snaps with Scott. Scott is the rushing quarterback while Golembiewski (6-for-14, 136 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) is more of the passer.
Scott scored again in the early fourth quarter (on a 7-yard run) to give the Hurricanes a 24-3 lead with 9:40 left.
Antioch scored its only touchdown with about five minutes left on a 7-yard run by Branden Gallimore. That made the score 24-9.
But then Marian Central answered one more time with a nice drive that was capped with a 26-yard pass from Golembiewski to a wide-open Pasquale Ricciardi in the end zone.
"I don't think Antioch would overlook us because they are well-coached and those kids are so humble and hard-working," Marian Central coach Mike Maloney said. "But also, if you take a look at our tape, there's really nothing you can overlook. We have some firepower at every position that coaches have to account for. And we figured out how to execute when we needed to in order to have some success."
The Hurricanes' success certainly put a damper on Antioch's otherwise perfect season.
The Sequoits were having a tough time accepting their fate in the moments immediately following the game.
"It's never easy when you lose your last game," Glashagel said. "Only eight teams in the state finish happy and that's when I tried to tell the kids. But to be honest, we are very disappointed. We wanted to make a statement in the 5A playoffs and we thought we had the team to do it.
"This will hurt, but we also need to remember that everything we've done over the last couple years is quite an accomplishment. We brought a lot of excitement to the school. You cry because it's over, but you'll smile because it happened."