The North Marion football team's historic season came to a close in heartbreaking fashion on Friday, falling 28-21 to the Marist Spartans in the final seconds of the 2019 4A state quarterfinals at Husky Stadium.
Making just their third trip to the quarters in program history, the Huskies were seeking to prolong an already unprecedented season in which the team had won its first outright league title in 60 years, followed by its first home state playoff victory ever.
A win over the fifth-seed Spartans (9-1) would have propelled No. 4 North Marion (7-3) into the semifinals for the first time ever, but instead the Huskies saw their playoff run end after the Spartans mounted a game-winning drive with under a minute remaining, culminating in the go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds left on the clock.
The two teams entered the final moments of the game knotted up at 21-21 after North Marion senior Matthew Wheatcroft tied the game with four minutes remaining on a touchdown pass from Sergio Jimenez.
The Huskies were able to drive back the Spartans ensuing drive, forcing a three-and-out thanks in part to Eithan Routledge's second sack of the night on Spartans quarterback Max Campbell. Receiving the ball near midfield with 1:46 left on the clock, North Marion was likewise held in check by the Marist defense and were forced to kick to the Spartans with 37 seconds remaining.
Taking over at their own 40-yard line, the Spartans went to work. Though North Marion had largely contained Campbell through the game, generating six sacks and a forced fumble while allowing less than 100 passing yards, the Spartans came alive when they needed it most.
Campbell found receiver Dylan Martin for a 12-yard gain that put Marist over midfield and followed with a 28-yard pass to Hagan Stephenson to advance the Spartans into the red zone with 20 seconds remaining.
Sophomore running back Lucas Tuski marched 19 yards to the brink of North Marion's end zone and punched it in on the next play to put his team up 28-21 with 8.9 seconds left on the clock.
After receiving the ball on their own 10-yard line, the Huskies made one last desperation heave, but Jimenez's pass was intercepted to end the game.
The loss was all the more lamentable after the Huskies fell behind by 14 points early, only to leap ahead with one of the team's signature second-half rallies. Coming into the game, North Marion had won four of its seven contests behind late-game surges, and Friday night's quarterfinal appeared to be following the same formula.
Down 14-0 late in the second quarter, the Huskies came alive on a 35-yard pass from Jimenez to junior Tanner Saucedo to advance into Spartan territory. Jimenez connected with teammates Hunter Wierstra, Brady Hansen and Johnny Page on the drive, and punctuated the effort with a 20-yard pass to Saucedo, who dove to the ground on the two-yard line, plucking the ball inches from the ground.
Senior running back David Page punched the ball into the endzone on the next play and caught the ensuing two-point conversion to pull the Huskies with 14-8 heading into halftime.
Coming out of the break, senior Matthew Wheatcroft proved to be the team's special teams equalizer, taking the opening kickoff 80 yards to the house to give the Huskies their first lead of the game, 15-14.
The advantage wouldn't last long, though. After a pair of failed drives from each team, Stephenson returned the favor, taking a punt return 70 yards up the right side of the field to put Marist back on top, 21-15, with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
The two teams traded scoreless drives until midway through the fourth quarter when Jimenez threw a deep pass up the left sideline to Wheatcroft, who caught the ball near the Spartan red zone and had a clear path to the end zone, only to lose his grip on the ball and watch is squirt out of bounds.
The referees concluded that it was a complete pass, but issued a 15-yard penalty against the Huskies on the play, driving North Marion back toward midfield.
Hansen gained it all back and then some on a 17-yard carry, followed by a pair of passes from Jimenez to Wheatcroft, the latter of which tied the game at 21-21. Looking to pull ahead, Jimenez's point-after attempt was blocked, keeping the game tied and setting the scene for the final minutes of the contest.
Jimenez finished the game completing 17-of-28 passes for 199 yards a touchdown and two interceptions.
Wheatcroft had three catches for 60 yards and a score. Saucedo led the team with 63 receiving yards on three catches, while Hansen had a team-high four catches for 47 yards.
Routledge led the team on defense with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble.
Campbell finished the game 10-of-20 for 108 yards. Sophomore teammate Lucas Tuski had a game-high 106 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.