Photo by Diane Cox
Marquette senior Cian Donovan sacks East Alton-Wood River junior quarterback Luke Wells in the second half during Week 5 in Wood River.
Marquette Catholic has a good thing going with Prairie State Conference football. The Explorers have snared league championships the past two years.
If they are going to make it three in a row, the Explorers will need to finish this season with a five-game winning string. They started a potential streak last Friday with a 44-0 victory at neighborhood rival East Alton-Wood River.
Now, they face their biggest test of the season. Marquette, 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the PSC, entertains Pawnee at 7 p.m. Friday at Public School Stadium.
Pawnee already owns a 16-13 win over Nokomis, which defeated Marquette 15-14. The Indians are 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Prairie, following a 38-0 win against 1-4 Kincaid South Fork.
Surprising Bunker Hill, which welcomes 2-3 Nokomis on Friday, also is making a bid to reign in the Prairie. The 4-1 Minutemen are 3-0 in the conference after downing Mount Olive 20-15 in Week 5. Bunker Hill is at Marquette on Oct. 10.
“Next week is an important game,” Marquette coach Matt Bucher said after last Friday’s rout of the Oilers. “That’s the way we are looking at it because at this point, it has to be a win-out mode for us.”
If the Explorers are thinking playoffs and making it to the postseason as they did last fall, they have no room for error. While some teams can finish 5-4 and accumulate enough points to qualify for the playoffs, it appears Marquette will require six wins to play Week 10.
“We really needed a victory (in Week 5),” Bucher said, “and the fact that it was EA-WR made it much sweeter.”
The Marquette players know the score and their losses to Civic Memorial, Quincy Notre Dame and Nokomis are all they can afford this season.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge,” sure-handed receiver Danny Holtz said of playing Pawnee. “We need our defense to step up — like they did tonight (Sept. 26) — every week for the remainder of the season.”
Quarterback Trey Aguirre, who figured directly in five of the six touchdowns against EA-WR, said the Explorers are approaching each game as vital to their success.
“Next week is a big week,” he said last Friday, peering ahead to the Pawnee game. “We have to play like we did tonight. We have to play our hardest.”
Their defense was hard enough on EA-WR, limiting the Oilers to 89 yards of total offense and recovering four fumbles. It was Marquette’s first shutout of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time, Aguirre said.
“The defense played really well and came up with some big plays,” he said. “Brady McAfee played a really good game.”
Aguirre also lauded the offense, which complemented him nicely.
“Danny (Holtz) is like a sure thing,” he said of his favorite target. “We have some other weapons, too.”
Following Marquette’s home games with Pawnee and Bunker Hill, the Explorers go to Metro East Lutheran (Oct. 17) and close things at home against Mount Olive (Oct. 24).
The IHSA playoff pairings will be announced on Saturday, Oct. 25, and Marquette hopes its name will be called for the 22nd time since 1974. The Explorers won two postseason games in 2012, two in 1991 and three apiece in 1987 and 1982. That ’82 squad finished second to Bishop Kankakee McNamara in the Class 3A finals.