ALTON – When opportunity knocked for the Marquette Catholic Explorers on Friday night, they forgot to answer.
The Explorers lamented their missed chances after they absorbed a 16-6 defeat to Pawnee in a key Prairie State Conference football game at Public School Stadium.
While the Indians improved to 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the Prairie State, the Explorers tumbled to 2-4 and 2-2. Marquette needs to prevail in its final three games to finish the regular season with a winning record.
“We have to win our last three games to have a chance of making the playoffs,” Marquette coach Matt Bucher said. “But we realize our (playoff) chances are slim.”
And Pawnee appears to be sitting in the driver’s seat for the conference championship. Thanks to Nokomis’ 49-27 win over Bunker Hill, the Indians are alone atop the league.
“We hold our destiny in our hands,” Pawnee coach Kitt Thein said. The Indians have East Alton-Wood River, Bunker Hill and Metro East Lutheran remaining. The Explorers play Bunker Hill, Metro East Lutheran and Mount Olive.
Thein pointed out, “This win was a big win for us – our biggest one of the season so far. We beat a very athletic team and put ourselves in good position in the conference.”
The Indians can point to their defense in stifling the Explorers. Marquette twice got inside the Pawnee 5 during the second half, but failed to score.
Trailing 8-6 late in the third quarter, Marquette went for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the Pawnee 2. The Explorers came up empty on a pass.
“We were 100 percent to go for it,” Bucher said in reference to trying for a touchdown rather than a field goal. “We had the right play, too. It was just in this particular scenario, it didn’t work.”
Thein said, “I thought for sure that they were going for a field goal.”
Pawnee’s offense got new life after its defense thwarted Marquette. Hayden Howard’s 71-yard touchdown with 7:50 remaining in the game and the ensuing successful conversion pass gave the Indians a 10-point lead.
They never lost it in spoiling Marquette’s homecoming.
“We had a great team effort and our defense came up big,” Thein said. “Hayden Howard also stepped it up for us and his touchdown was really a big play. It was one of the biggest plays of the game.”
The Explorers had one last opportunity for redemption. They drove to the Pawnee 4 in the final minute, but couldn’t connect on another fourth-down opportunity. The Indians first appearance in Alton was a winning one, even if they had four turnovers, including three fumbles.
“It was a good, tough battle,” Thein said.
Brayden Alexander’s 30-yard TD run and his reception on a conversion pass from quarterback Dane Moats gave Pawnee an 8-0 lead in the final minute of the first half.
Jesse Simmons of Marquette scored on a 17-yard run with 5:11 to play in the third quarter, but the Explorers couldn't covert on a tying, two-point run. And that was the extent of their scoring the rest of the way.
“Pawnee is the team to beat in the conference and they are a well-coached team,” Bucher said. “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, but we have a lot of inexperience this season.
He added, “Tonight, we had missed opportunities and some mental breakdowns. At times, there was a lack of execution. It seemed like we were hurrying and getting a little too anxious, particularly in the first half.”
Danny Holtz snagged four passes for 65 yards and Simmons snagged four more as quarterback Trey Aguirre completed 10 of 31 passes for 107 yards. Pawnee’s Howard rushed for 124 yards to stir the Indians’ attack.
PAWNEE 16, MARQUETTE CATHOLIC 6
Pawnee 0 8 0 8 – 16
Marquette 0 0 6 0 – 6
P – Alexander 30 run (Alexander pass from Moats), 55.8
M – Simmons 17 run (run failed), 5:11
P – Howard 71 run (Specht pass from Moats), 7:50