CRYSTAL LAKE – With less than two minutes dividing Prairie Ridge from a berth in the Class 6A state quarterfinals or the end of its season, Brett Covalt hadn't yet completed a pass.
The Wolves had stuck closely to their triple option offense, which had staked them to a two-touchdown lead. But now, needing to cover 60 yards in less than two minutes, Prairie Ridge had to suddenly shift over to the two-minute offense it works on at the end of nearly all practices.
That scheme includes a slant go-route that the Wolves keep in their pocket, knowing it's there if need be. With 59.2 seconds left, Covalt got the call to put the play into action and lofted a 28-yard pass to a back-pedaling Danny Meikel, whose touchdown catch gave Prairie Ridge a dramatic 21-20 win over Marmion on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Wolves (7-4) advances to face No. 1-seed Rockford Boylan (11-0), which knocked off Cary-Grove in another Saturday second-round game.
"It was just do-or-die," Meikel said. "We were just thinking of our community, our teammates. We just wanted to win the game. We weren't ready to go home yet."
Prairie Ridge never trailed until the final minutes when Marmion (8-3) took a 20-14 lead on Brock Krueger's 4-yard quarterback keeper. The Cadets, who had only 32 yards of offense in the first half, staged a fourth quarter comeback, tying the game on Krueger's 14-yard touchdown pass to Josh Meyers with 7:25 remaining. After struggling for much of the day to get rolling, Marmion was two minutes from moving on.
"Give credit to their defense – they were really teeing off on us," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. "But what a credit to our kids. [The comeback] wasn't me – it wasn't a speech. It was just tremendous class and character and all of the juices of our seniors and all of our players came out.
"We went down fighting."
Unfortunately for the Cadets, so did Prairie Ridge.
Trailing by six after Marmion missed its point after attempt, Covalt started to move the Wolves down the field locked into two-minute mode. Thorpe said coaches discussed avoiding point after attempts before the game due to high winds. But after the failed PAT, the Comets turned the game over to the defense, hoping for one final stop.
"We were comfortable," Covalt said. "We knew what to do. I think we have a huge advantage on teams because they think we're just run, run, run. But it's good to have the unexpected."
Covalt hit Steven Ladd for an 11-yard pass, getting the Wolves into Marmion territory. A Covalt keeper and a Brent Anderson run got the ball to the 28-yard line, setting up the game-winning touchdown pass. Chris Eschweiler added the point-after to give the Wolves the lead back with less than a minute to play.
"At this point, we've told the guys, 'You've only got to win by one [point] and I think they took it literally," Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. "The second half of the season has been a test of our kids' mental toughness and I'm sure a lot of people counted us out when we got the ball that last minute, thinking 'Oh, they're not going to be able to score throwing the ball'.
"But we made some plays when we needed to."
The late touchdown stunned Marmion, which began its last drive with poor field position and couldn't respond as the Wolves' defense held. For Marmion, early offensive struggles proved to be too much to come back from.
"We didn't do anything offensively [early] and then the screen passes got us going a little bit and got the momentum going," Thorpe said. "Defensively, we shut them out in the second half – almost – but I'm a lucky guy to be a part of these kids."
The Cadets now have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Wolves in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013.
PRAIRIE RIDGE 21, MARMION 20
Marmion 0 0 6 14 – 20
Prairie Ridge 0 14 0 7 – 21
PR–Anderson 23 yard run (Eschweiler kick), 10:57.
PR–Covalt 2 run (Eschweiler kick), 1:28.
M–Eberth 38 pass from Krueger (kick failed), 6:31.
M – Meyers 14 pass from Krueger (Montalbano pass from Krueger), 7:25
M - Krueger 4 run (kick failed), 1:57
PR - Meikel 28 pass from Covalt (Eschweiler kick), 59.2
RUSHING–Marmion: Montalbano 4-5, Krueger 17-35 , Warren 5-4, Meyers 3-12. Totals: 29-56. Prairie Ridge: Covalt 29-140, Anderson 13-98, Ladd 12-34, Meikel 1-4. Totals: 55-276.
PASSING–Marmion: Krueger 13-20-204. Prairie Ridge: Covalt 2-6-39.
RECEIVING–Marmion: Warren 2-27, Glasgow 1-3, Olabi 2-12, Montalbano 2-55, Sevenich 1-16, Eberth 2-57, Meyers 3-48. Prairie Ridge: Ladd 1-11, Meikel 1-28
TOTAL TEAM YARDS: Marmion 260, Prairie Ridge 315.