Montini responds in second half to beat Princeton
Before Montini came back to the field for the second half of its Class 3A quarterfinal at Princeton, senior Alex Marre had a message for his teammates with the Broncos trailing by three points.
"Right before we broke, I looked at everybody and just said, 'Smile,'" Marre said. "Football is the greatest game on planet Earth. I said everyone should smile, stay calm and we got it."
Marre made sure the Broncos had plenty of reason to smile in the second half.
He ran for three touchdowns, the Montini defense recovered two key fumbles and the No. 6-seeded Broncos pulled away for a 27-9 victory over the No. 2 Tigers on Saturday.
"It feels amazing," Marre said. "Coming from 3-6 the last two years to winning this game to bring us to the semifinals, it's a surreal feeling. We knew we had to do it. We wanted it. They got us in the first half, but in the second half and took it to them."
The Broncos (9-3) advance to the semifinals for the first time since reaching the 5A title game in 2018 where they will face No. 1 Byron (12-0).
"Our seniors went through a lot the last four years," Montini coach Mike Bukovsky said. "They went through COVID and we had some subpar teams that we weren't used to having and they stuck through it. I'm really proud of those guys because they're the ones who are still here. A lot of guys didn't choose to stay here and a lot of guys went elsewhere. I'm just so happy for this group of seniors."
Byron advanced to its fifth consecutive semifinal with a 63-15 win over No. 5 Durand-Pecatonica on Saturday. The Broncos will host Byron after back-to-back road wins in the playoffs.
"Byron's a fantastic team, a great program," Bukovsky said. "We've been watching them all year. It's going to be a great challenge. We're going to get ourselves ready and put together the best game plan we can."
The Broncos took advantage of turnovers Saturday.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime, Montini got on the board on its first possession of the second half when Santino Florio took a jet sweep 69 yards for a touchdown.
The Broncos recovered fumbles on back-to-back possessions -- recovered by Max Bell and Isaac Alexander -- to set up TDs.
Marre scored on runs of 29 and 21 yards to extend Montini's lead to 20-3 with 11:22 left.
"Everybody knows turnovers are game changers, so for our defense to get those for us and change the momentum of the game on both of those drives was huge," Marre said.
Marre added one more score to finish with 174 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
"First half, we really couldn't get anything going," Marre said. "I knew in the second half our guys would pick it up, so I just stayed patient and let my linemen do their thing. I give all the credit to the linemen."
For Princeton, the first half couldn't have gone much better.
The Tigers recovered a fumble on Montini's first play then drove into the red zone, but missed a field goal.
Princeton then stopped the Broncos' second drive on fourth down and never gave Montini the ball back.
The Tigers took the final 10:05 off the clock with 16 plays and Carlos Benavidez booted a 31-yard field goal as time expired for a 3-0 halftime lead.
"We knew we had to sustain some drives and eat the clock and keep their offense and their weapons off the field," Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. "Unfortunately, you can't turn it over and give a team like that a short field. That was our bugaboo in the second half."
The Tigers played without receiver/defensive back Noah LaPorte for the entire second half. Running back Casey Etheridge and receiver Jordan Reinhardt also spent time on the sidelines in the second half.
Etheridge did return to score a 1-yard touchdown with 5:24 left. He finished with 92 yards on 20 carries, while Ace Christiansen had 51 yards on 19 attempts.