Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Marquette senior wide receiver Jesse Simmons runs after a catch during a Week 3 victory over South Fork (Kincaid) at Public School Stadium. The Explorers are back in the playoffs after a year’s hiatus and head to Rochester at 1:30 p.m. Saturday to kick off the first round.
The Marquette Catholic football team continued its string of postseason success on Oct. 23.
The 50-35 win over Prairie State Conference rival Mount Olive secured the eighth playoff berth in nine years for the Explorers.
“I think we can be competitive,” first-year Marquette head coach Darrell Angleton said after the Mount Olive victory. “One of our mottos here is one week at a time, but we made some mistakes tonight and we can’t do that in a playoff game or we’re going to lose it.”
The Explorers failed to make the playoffs last year with a 5-4 mark. They finished the regular season with a 6-3 overall record and a 6-1 record in the PSC this year, finishing second in the conference behind Pawnee.
Marquette last posted a losing season (2-7) in 2005. The Explorers will play five-time defending Class 4A state champion Rochester (8-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Rochester in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
Marquette’s season didn’t start out on the high note it concluded on, as Civic Memorial defeated the Explorers 50-21 in Week 1 on Aug. 29 and Quincy Notre Dame defeated them 35-7 on Sept. 4 in Week 2.
“The first game was a disaster,” Angleton said. “We didn’t execute at all. CM is a good team, they have such talented kids, but it should have been closer. We didn’t execute in three or four facets of the game and these guys said, ‘We’re tired of this stuff.’ Then they came back and played Notre Dame, which has been state-ranked most of the year, 7-7 at the half. In the next game, we got it on. That’s what these guys are all about. They learn from the mistakes and execute when they have to execute.”
The Explorers earned their six wins in two different three-game winning streaks, defeating Kincaid (South Fork) 17-6 on Sept. 12, Nokomis 24-23 on Sept. 19 and East-Alton Wood River 38-6 on Sept. 28 before suffering a 30-7 defeat at the hands of Pawnee on Oct. 3.
Marquette put some major points on the board in the last three weeks of the season with a 66-20 win over Bunker Hill on Oct. 9 and a 67-18 pounding of Metro East Lutheran on Oct. 16 before the win over the Wildcats in Week 9.
Quarterback Trey Aguirre provided a lot of spark this season, as he has completed 97 of 171 passes for 1,327 yards. He’s also rushed for 185 yards and scored 4 touchdowns. Sophomore running back D’Avion Peebles and junior running back Brady McAfee rushed for 441 and 261 yards to lead the team, while scoring 7 and 6 touchdowns respectively.
“The team has to execute and not make any mistakes,” Peebles said of the postseason. “The offense, our linemen, have to step it up and open holes. Tonight (Mount Olive) we did that with opening holes and blocking for Trey Aguirre.”
McAfee said his team entered the Mount Olive contest with a great deal of urgency.
“It was make it or break it,” he said. “Most likely the loser would not have enough points to make it into the playoffs. We all had to come in here, execute and do our job.”
McAfee, also a linebacker, leads Marquette on defense with 46 solo tackles and 12 assists. Liam Maher, who Angleton has called “the best kicker in the area,” has nailed 5 field goals this season, while on punting he’s kicked 20 times for 682 yards.
The Explorers will have their hands full with Rochester in Week 1 of the 4A playoffs. The Rockets have won the 4A state title every year since 2010, meaning they haven’t lost a playoff game this decade. They sport a 25-0 playoff record over that span.
Marquette is searching for its first postseason victory since making the 4A quarterfinals in 2012. The Explorers are the No. 13 seed, while Rochester is the No. 4 seed.
“It’s no surprise,” Angleton said of the Rochester draw. “They have good receivers, so we will have to be at our best on defense. Our boys will give us 100 percent.”
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