Marquette junior Brady McAfee weaves through the Oiler defense during Week 5 Prairie State Conference action at Public School Stadium. The Explorers are enjoying a three-game winning streak.
Patience. Stay the course. Keep the faith.
First-year Marquette Catholic High head football coach Darrell Angleton preached all of that — and more — to the Explorers after they started the season 0-2.
They have listened, learned and taken that advice to heart.
The Explorers improved to 3-2 last Saturday following a 38-6 victory over Prairie State Conference rival East Alton-Wood River at Public School Stadium. So that’s three league wins in succession for Marquette, unbeaten in Prairie play. The Explorers have Pawnee, Metro East Lutheran of Edwardsville, Bunker Hill and Mount Olive remaining on their regular-season schedule.
All are conference games. The Pawnee contest, set for 1 p.m. today on the Indians’ field, could determine the league title. The defending champs are 4-1, including a 3-0 conference mark.
“We feel confident. We have bounced back pretty well from that,” Angleton said, referring to season-opening losses to Civic Memorial and Quincy Notre Dame.
Little wonder. CM is 5-0 and savoring its best start in 14 years. The Eagles, who welcome 5-0 Highland on Friday, are contending for the Mississippi Valley Conference championship. Quincy Notre Dame is 4-1 and rolling toward the IHSA playoffs.
“The guys believed in themselves and we believed we would bounce back,” Explorers’ senior receiver Jesse Simmons said of the team’s sluggish start.
Simmons supplied his finest game last Saturday by snaring eight passes for 106 yards and getting a pair of touchdowns in the win over EA-WR. Simmons and quarterback Trey Aguirre could prove to be a potent force the final month of the regular season. Aguirre completed 14 of 24 passes for 168 yards and those two TDs against the Oilers.
“Jesse and Trey have built a special relationship on the football field,” Angleton said. “They have played together for a long time and they know each other’s moves.”
Aguirre also understood that starting Week 3 of the season, the Explorers could conveniently put their first two games behind them. The beginning of conference competition offered new opportunities. The Prairie champion automatically qualifies for postseason play.
“We knew that we could bounce back going into conference play,” Aguirre said. “We started playing the way we thought we could play.”
They had to grind out a 17-6 victory over visiting Kincaid South Fork and then used everything in their arsenal to subdue host Nokomis, 24-23, in an overtime thriller. The Nokomis game loomed as a make-or-break one for the Explorers.
“It was really a big win,” said Aguirre, scoring on a 10-yard run in the overtime period. Liam Maher’s extra point kick made the difference, but it took a standout defensive play by Brian Nagy to thwart Nokomis on a conversion run after the Redskins scored.
“Nokomis was a big game,” Marquette running back Brady McAfee said. “When we started 0-2, we had to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we were going to step up our play.”
McAfee accelerated his effort against EA-WR. He rushed 12 times for 101 yards, including a pair of touchdowns — one for 51 yards.
“We didn’t take them lightly,” McAfee said of the business-like approach to playing the Oilers. “We wanted to get in there and get out with a win.”
As far as he is concerned, that’s the Explorers’ mindset for the remainder of the season in their quest for postseason play. They missed out last year, going 5-4, yet not accumulating enough playoff points.
“I see good things down the road for us,” McAfee said. “I can see a playoff game in our future.”
Angleton said it’s a week-by-week approach, just like it was after the second game of the season.
“The tempo of our practices has been good,” he said. “We need to keep coming out with that kind of intensity in our practices and maintain our attitude.”
Simmons indicated that won’t be a problem.
“We’ve been buckling down in practices,” he said.
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