After a huge come-from-behind win over Centralia in Week 7, the Marion football team has a chance to earn a share of the South Seven Conference title when it travels to Carbondale for a 7 p.m. game today.
Marion ran the two-minute drill well, and Caden Hilliard delivered the game-winning score with 18 seconds left in the Wildcats 49-46 victory over the Orphans.
“We scored with 18 seconds to go, and I was still afraid that he had enough time,” Marion coach Kerry Martin said of Centralia’s quarterback, Javon Williams, Jr. “That’s the scary thing about playing against him. We had a touchdown with about a minute to go that got called back. In the end, it was kind of a blessing that we didn’t leave him a minute.”
With only winless Mount Vernon remaining on its conference slate, the Orphans would have almost certainly run the table in the league. But Marion had other ideas. Williams has amassed more than 10,000 yards of offense during his high school career.
“I’ll be the person with the noisemakers and air horns at his graduation,” Martin joked. “We’ve been blessed to beat him the last two years. That’s a tall order because he’s just such a weapon. I’ve never coached against anyone that can control a game like he does. He is able to put a team on his shoulders.”
Carbondale (2-5, 1-3) fell to Althoff Catholic, 48-21, in Week 7. The Terriers can’t make the playoffs, but hope to finish the season strong with two games left.
“Good things are happening our way, just not enough good things at the right time,” said Carbondale coach Bryan Lee. “But we are getting better defensively, and we’ve just got to keep working. We recently had eight kids who are underclassmen starting on defense.”
Marion recently took Althoff to the wire and secured the impressive win over Centralia. Lee knows his squad is facing a tall order in this contest.
“We have a tough schedule like Marion does,” Lee said. “They have a tough schedule on their front end, and I think that probably helps them on the back end. They have gotten better as the year has gone on. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a tough game. Kerry Martin is a good coach with a good program.”
The Wildcats suffered losses to Dunlap and Highland in Weeks 2 and 3. Both of those teams are still undefeated. But a share of the conference crown is still there for the taking.
“It’s always a goal we have, and we were 0-3 last year and 1-2 this year before conference play started,” Martin said. “You don’t know what direction your season is going to go when you start off the way we have the last couple of years against a tough schedule. It was a tough road, so it feels pretty good sitting here in Week 8 to even have a chance to play for a conference championship.”
Although the Terriers have won just two games, Martin is making sure his guys come out focused and fired up for this contest.
“The toughest team on your schedule is yourself, and that’s the key,” Martin said. “Most teams lose games when they make enough mistakes to put themselves in a situation to lose. I have showed them film of Carbondale making good plays against good teams like Althoff or Centralia. Forget the record, throw them out when Marion and Carbondale play. Underdogs win every week, and I don’t know why we’re so shocked by it.”
Jakeba Burleigh has made the Carbondale offense more dangerous. He hasn’t started at quarterback for the whole season, but he’s making the most of his opportunity.
“We made the switch at quarterback a few weeks ago, and Jakeba Burleigh has done a really nice job,” Lee said. “With the offense that we run, having a mobile quarterback gives us one more weapon. At one point this season, he threw seven touchdowns in six quarters. He gets us out of some tough situations by keeping plays alive.”
David Fletcher has played well at quarterback for Marion (4-3, 3-1) this season. Fletcher threw for 230 yards and four touchdowns last week. Three of those scoring passes went to Jaden Lacy.
“David didn’t play much quarterback at all last year,” Martin said. “He really didn’t have much varsity experience at all. But there were certain things I felt that David did well, and we’ve tried to build on those things. He’s extremely smart, and his character is great. His work ethic is really good. I think the thing that stands out to me the most is his ability to make good decisions and remain poised in some really tough situations.”
Lee said Tavaris Macklin will likely see quite a bit of action at running back this week.
“Tavaris is a sophomore and has had a pretty decent year,” Lee said. “We want to get a good look at Tavaris, so he’s going to get a shot. I’m excited about that.”
Marion can also become playoff-eligible with a victory this evening.
“We think Carbondale is much better than their record, and I tell my kids that every day,” Martin said. “I’m impressed with their athleticism. They’re running the spread offense pretty well. It will not be an easy game for us at all.”