MOUNT OLIVE — A strong third quarter lifted the Marquette Catholic Explorers past the Mount Olive Wildcats in Friday's Prairie State Conference contest at Mount Olive.
Marquette improved to 6-3 overall and 6-1 in the PSC with the 50-35 win. The victory, which extends the Explorers’ winning streak to three games, secured a playoff berth for them. Marquette led 29-22 at halftime and went on to outscore the Wildcats 14-0 in the third quarter.
Explorer coach Darrell Angleton agreed that his team’s defense was effective in pressuring Mount Olive in the third quarter. Wildcats' head coach Bill Jones echoed that same sentiment.
“I think in the beginning (quarterback) Trey’s (Aguirre) timing was a little bit off,” Angleton said. “It’s been that way in the last few games, but as soon as it’s on then we’re rolling. But if I can make you guard 53-yards across the field then I can beat you.”
The Explorers led 43-22 at the end of the third quarter. Marquette’s D’Avion Peebles scored the first touchdown of the third quarter on a 54-yard run at the 7:05 mark and Brady McAfee scored a touchdown on a one-yard scamper into the end zone at the 3:43 mark.
The Wildcats (5-4, 5-2 PSC) showed some life early in the fourth quarter when Jonathan Darrah scored a touchdown at the 8:42 mark to cut the score to 43-28. Just seconds later Mount Olive recovered an onside kick, but they failed to make much of it.
In fact, the Wildcats didn’t even work the ball into Explorer territory, as they turned the ball over on downs on their own 49-yard line after failing to convert on a fourth and 12 play.
Marquette then put together a six-play, 51-yard drive that concluded with McAfee running the ball 34 yards into the end zone to lift the lead to 49-28.
Darrah scored Mount Olive’s final touchdown with 59 seconds left to play in the contest.
The first half told a different story with the momentum swinging back and forth.
Mount Olive led 8-7 at the end of the first quarter. Marquette regained the lead, 13-8, with Peebles’ touchdown at the 9:02 mark in the second quarter. The Wildcats held their final lead, 15-14, at the 3:24 mark in the second quarter after a touchdown and an extra point from Darrah.
The Explorers quickly responded when Peebles’ ran the ball 67-yards into the end zone on a punt return to make the score 20-15 Marquette. Moments later he ran the ball into the end zone for a two-point conversion.
On the next Mount Olive possession, Darrah scored a touchdown at the 1:55 mark and then kicked an extra point to tie it at 22-22. But the Wildcats received little boost from the score, as McAfee scored a touchdown 29 seconds before the end of the first half to give Marquette the lead (28-22) once again.
McAfee and Peebles were the only Explorers to score touchdowns as McAfee scored four touchdowns and Peebles recorded three. Aguirre connected on 15 of 24 passes for 93 yards and kicker Liam Maher went 6-for-6 on extra points.
“The great thing about these guys (McAfee and Peebles) is the yards after contact,” Angleton said. “They’ll take a hit and you won’t take them down with one arm. In fact, you may lose your arm. They make you make a good, solid tackle.”
For Mount Olive, Darrah scored five of the Wildcats’ six touchdowns.
“He (Darrah) had an outstanding ball game,” Jones said. “He’s an outstanding ball player.”
The Explorers will be back in action with a Class 4A playoff game next week. The opponent and time will be announced during Saturday night's playoff pairings show on www.ihsa.org. Marquette had made the postseason for eight consecutive seasons before taking a year's hiatus in 2014.