Marian’s Randall Well looks into the line of scrimmage Friday during the host Spartans’ 45-21 ESCC romp over Saint Viator. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)
Chicago Heights, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Marian did several little things well on Friday night and they turned into big results.
The Spartan defense forced three turnovers and had six sacks, while the offense exploded for five scoring plays of 34 yards or more.
The small stuff added up to a 45-21 ESCC romp over visiting Saint Viator, sending the Spartans into the Class 7A IHSA playoffs with a 7-2 overall mark, including seven victories in their last eight games.
"It feels great when we’re able to put the other team under some pressure," explained senior defensive end Michael Tolliver, who notched a pair of sacks and led a defense that forced two turnovers that ignited a 21-0 third-quarter blitz. "We put the pressure on up front and we helped out the defensive backs. We played great on both sides of the ball and had a strong overall team effort.
"We had to show that we could react when we had something to prove. We had to show we can finish a game. Now, we’re going into the playoffs with some nice momentum."
Marian tried to set the tone in the trenches early, blanking the Lions (4-5, 2-5) in the opening quarter and establishing a polished running game.
But when things opened up for the home team, the fans got a display of exciting scoring plays.
Marian quarterback John Rhode opened the game’s scoring with a 1-yard sneak. After Jabari Danzy added his first of six conversion kicks (32-for-32 on the season), Marian owned a 7-0 lead that it would never relinquish. From there, explosive scoring plays became the theme.
Marian used twin 55-yard marches to open the scoring, but the second one lasted just four plays as Rhode found Trevor Woolfolk down the right sideline for a 34-yard touchdown.
Saint Viator added a 1-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 margin at the intermission.
But then Marian unleashed that ability to "finish" with an exhilerating third quarter, as the defense ignited the offense.
The Lions initial possession of the third quarter ended when Jason Martinez picked off a tipped pass. Three plays later, Woolfolk took a pitch and, breaking several tackles, scampered 38 yards for a 21-7 Spartan lead.
Next time, Martinez thwarted Saint Viator when he picked off a pass in the end zone for a touchback. It took the Spartans just five plays to march 80 yards as Rhode hit Randall Wells (two catches, 67 yards) on a fly down the right sidleline for a 54-yard touchdown and 28-7 margin.
Marian had the ball back quickly, as a Marc Grkinich sack led to a four-and-out, setting up the Spartans at the Lions’ 39-yard line. Nine seconds later, Rob Cifelli had taken a pitch the 39 yards for a score and suddenly, the close halftime margin had swelled to a 35-7 cushion.
Fighting for its playoff survival, Saint Viator didn’t back down and scored late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. However, the Spartans also added a fourth score in as many possessions when Jeruel Taylor burst around left and and danced 39 yards for a tally at the 11:52 mark of the fourth quarter for a 42-14 command.
Taylor finished with a game-high 172 rushing yards on 18 carries, as he increased his regular-season rushing total to 1,190 yards. As a squad, Marian rushed for 351 yards as Cifelli added 68 yards, Rhode 46 and Woolfolk 41. Rhode was equally efficient in the passing game, tossing four completions in eight attempts for 137 yards and two scores.
For good measure, Danzy concluded the scoring with a 24-yard field goal with 8:30 to play.
For a game that started with a 0-0 stalemate after 12 minutes, the Spartans eventually scored on plays of 34, 38, 54, 39 and 39 yards after the initial 1-yard sneak by Rhode.
Tolliver was the one that ignited the Marian defense early, as he combined a sack with a fumble recovery on St. Viator’s initial possession.
"It feels good to get the sacks," Tolliver said. "But I just wanted to hit the quarterback and keep the pressure on them consistently."
Tolliver’s teammates got into the act too, as Grkinich, Byron Munoz, Jake Anderson and Robert Ruiz also recorded sacks.
The initial sack only netted a missed field goal, but the Spartans quickly gained solid field position after forcing the Lions into a three-and-out. Taking possession on their own 45-yard line, Rhode fired chain-moving aerials to Wells (13 yards) and to Dominic Pascale (36 yards) on a diving catch. Two plays later, the Rhode sneak gave Marian the lead for good and proved to be the Spartans’ lone short scoring play of the night.
Marian will learn its playoff destiny on Saturday night around 8:30 p.m.
Sophomores: The Spartans jumped to an early lead, but eventually concluded the season with a 7-6 ESCC loss to the Lions.