WOOD RIVER — The Marquette Catholic Explorers won the turnover battle and in turn won the game Saturday at Memorial Stadium against the host East Alton-Wood River Oilers.
EA-WR coughed up the ball four times to Marquette's once and the Explorers pulled out a 31-8 Prairie State Conference victory. With the win Marquette is now 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the PSC. The Oilers dipped to 2-2 and 1-1 with the loss.
“I think we just had to come out here and make a statement,” Explorer quarterback Brady McAfee said. “Our first three games people were doubting how we were going to be this year. We had to come out here and show them what we're capable of and what kind of team we are.”
It was frustrating for EA-WR head coach Garry Herron, because the turnovers came in crucial situations and led to big plays for Marquette. That's what he believed was the difference.
“I was just telling the kids you can't win with four turnovers,” Herron said. “That's the bottom line and it's not anything new. We've talked about that all year because that's kind of what we did last year. We'd turn it over, get a terrible penalty and the next thing you know we're down 14 points. I told them that can't be a part of what we do and when we do do those things we're not a very good football team. That was the point we got across and we've just got to get better.”
The first Oiler turnover was the biggest. After stopping the Explorers on a three-and-out on their first drive of the game, they had to punt. Marquette's Liam Maher punted it deep into EA-WR territory, but it was fumbled. Explorer D'Avion Peebles scooped up the loose ball and ran it 12 yards into the end zone at the 7:37 mark of the opening quarter. Maher's kick was good and like that Marquette was ahead 7-0.
“That's being physical and field awareness,” Explorer head coach Darrell Angleton said of Peebles' fumble recovery and TD.
Angleton gave credit to Maher also, who had a lot of deep punts, a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter and attempted a 57-yarder that fell short right before the break.
“You can't disregard our kicking game,” Angleton said. “Liam Maher is a weapon and he's a weapon not only when he's kicking field goals... He's good out to 50 yards.”
EA-WR's next hiccup came early in the second quarter. Quarterback Justin Englar found T.J. Lawson for a 6-yard hookup along the Oiler sideline, but a fumble turned it over to the Explorers. Brian Nagy was there to gobble it up.
Chandler Eckhoff and Zach Wells sacked McAfee on Marquette's first play following the turnover, but then Treven Swingler broke off a nice 38-yard TD run on the next play. The sophomore runner broke a few tackles along the way into the end zone. Maher's kick was good, making it 14-0 at the 10:07 mark of the second quarter.
Overall Herron was happy with his team's defensive play in the game. The Oilers held Swingler to 67 yards rushing on the day on 12 carries. Marquette had a total of 115 yards on the ground.
“(Their running game) is something we really focused on all week because in the games we scouted they went to that to run the ball and did a good job, so we said, 'We can't get beat by that formation.' Because it's a simple formation, you can tell where they're going and you've just got to get off the ball and stop it. I was happy for our defense. It's 10 times better than it was last year.”
EA-WR coughed it up again on its next offensive drive. This time fumbling a handoff, which Marquette's Jack Parker was there to sniff out and get the recovery. McAfee then found Jayce Maag for a 30-yard TD strike on the very next play. The PAT was good and the Explorers led 21-0 with 7:36 remaining in the second quarter.
They struck once more before heading to the locker room, as Maher connected on a 44-yard field goal at the 1:10 mark to up the lead to 24-0.
Maher tried his 57-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the half, but it fell short. Zach Womack of the Oilers picked it up and ran back 23 yards, but stepped out of bounds while tip-toeing up the EA-WR sideline to end the half.
The Oilers committed their fourth turnover in the third quarter on another fumble. Ralph Williams of the Explorers gobbled up the loose ball at midfield, but this time it was a wash. On Marquette's first play, EA-WR's Brayden Young picked off McAfee to give the ball right back to the Oilers.
The score remained 24-0 in favor of the the Explorers at the end of the third quarter, but it didn't take long for them to score again entering the fourth though.
On the first play of the final quarter, McAfee took off with a hard run for 35 yards into the end zone. Maher's extra kick made it 31-0 with 11:49 to play.
“It was a B-gap run and the hole collapsed so I just bounced it out, took it up the sideline, broke a couple tackles and ran it in,” McAfee said.
The Oilers finally got on the scoreboard with 9:22 remaining. After an Englar punt pinned the Explorers on their 1-yard line, sophomore Dominic Scroggins was able to wrap up Peebles in the end zone for a safety, cutting the deficit to 31-2.
EA-WR found pay dirt once more with 40.7 seconds to go. This time Englar threw up a ball and Wells was able to out leap a Marquette defender for a 25-yard TD. The 2-point conversion was no good, leaving the final score 31-8.
Angleton believes the Oilers are heading in the right direction after what he saw Saturday.
“This Wood River team is going to be a good team,” Angleton said. “The seniors aren't the big contributors, I know (Jacob) Vassos is a senior, but they've got a lot of juniors. I think coach Herron has a lot to look up to. I tip my hat off to him.”
But Angleton thinks his team is trending in the direction he wants it to go and his quarterback agrees.
“I feel that we're the premiere team in our conference and I feel like we're going to show everybody that with the remainder of our schedule,” McAfee said. “We've got a lot of good things coming. Next week, Pawnee, good team, back-to-back conference champs, but I feel we're going to come out and make a big statement.”
Statistically, McAfee was 5-of-12 for 79 yards, a TD and an interception, while rushing for 29 yards and a TD. Swingler's 67 yards led the rushing attack for Marquette. Maag had 30 yards receiving and a TD to lead the receiving corps.
EA-WR was led on the ground by Gabe Grimes with 16 carries for 68 yards, while Englar was 8-of-14 for 85 yards and a score through the air. Wells had 2 catches for 31 yards and a score to lead the receivers.
The Oilers play host to Metro East Lutheran (0-4, 0-2) in Week 5, while the Explorers head back to Public School Stadium to battle Pawnee (3-1, 1-1) in PSC action.