The Huskies muster a 27-26 victory -- their first against the Falcons since 2009 -- by stopping a late two-point conversion attempt.

by: PHIL HAWKINS / PAMPLIN MEDIA - The North Marion football team defeated La Salle Prep for the first time since 2009 with a 27-26 triumph Oct. 4.With less than two minutes left in Friday night’s football game between North Marion and La Salle Prep, the Falcons capped a furious second-half comeback when quarterback Michael Duarte punched the ball in from 8 yards out to pull La Salle within a point, 27-26.

But rather than tie the game with an extra point, the Falcons lined up in an offset formation to go for two and the win. After being up 21-0 after the first half, the Huskies were in danger of letting a crucial conference game slip between their fingers until North Marion senior Brody Gragg made the play of the night.

With eight players lined up on the left side of the field for the conversion, the Falcons were seemingly taking a page out of the Oregon Ducks’ playbook. La Salle snapped the ball to Duarte, who lateralled the ball across the field. But before La Salle could make any forward progress, Gragg shot past a group of blockers and wrapped up the ball-carrier. A group of Husky defenders joined Gragg in the dog pile to put an end to the rally and give North Marion a 2-0 start to their conference schedule for the first time since 2009.

“I told our guys, ‘Get angles,’ and (Gragg) just saw it and took it,” North Marion coach Doug Bilodeau said. “Our defense is predicated on if you see the ball, you just got to go. There’s no reading, it’s just see the ball and go, and he took advantage of that.”

Gragg’s play put the finishing touches on an exciting night that was a tale of two polar opposite halves for the Huskies and the Falcons.

North Marion built a three-touchdown lead that was started when Kyle Williamson took a 21-yard pass from Ben Crumley to put the Huskies up 7-0 with four minutes left in the first quarter. Shane McKillip added a score toward the end of the first half on an eight-yard sweep, and the Huskies took advantage of good field position to add one more touchdown from Crumley in the final minute to take a commanding lead.

La Salle adjusted in the second half, though. They brought in Duarte behind center from his usual position at running back, and he starting moving the Falcons’ offense in no time.

“They brought the guy in just to run,” Bilodeau said. “He’s a good runner.”

La Salle scored twice in the third quarter behind drives set up by Duarte’s option-keeper running plays. At the same time, the Falcons were able to bottle up North Marion’s offense and cut the score to 21-13 entering the final quarter.

After a halfback pass from Williamson to Gragg for a touchdown was called back due to holding, the North Marion offense sustained its first drive of the half that was capped when McKillip scored for the second time of the evening in the fourth quarter to put the Huskies up 27-13. The junior running back finished the night with 39 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to go along with a pair of receptions for 47 yards.

La Salle continued to press and scored with 5:15 left to pull within 27-20. After holding North Marion’s offense on the next series, the Falcons took the ball and scored with 1:50 left in the game to set up the decisive conversion attempt.

“In the films, they always have momentum in the second half,” Bilodeau said. “They’re a young team. Either they fall apart or they get momentum, and they got momentum.”

Crumley finished the game completing 11 of 19 passes for 156 yards. His favorite target was Williamson, who caught five passes for 76 yards and added one carry for 29 yards.

The win puts North Marion (4-2, 2-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference) tied atop the league standings with No. 9 Gladstone. With only three games remaining, the Huskies are in prime position to make a run at their first playoff appearance since the team finished 4-2 in the Capital Conference in 2009 and lost to Banks in the first round of the state playoffs.

The team had already passed a major milestone in winning its first conference game in three years. But with each win, the Huskies simply want to continue improving and building toward the next week.

“We’re getting better,” Bilodeau said. “It’s a new coach and a new system. Just keep plugging along and keep chopping at the tree and make it fall.”

North Marion plays on the road Thursday when it travels to Estacada to take on the Rangers (1-5, 1-1).

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