MARION — Heading into the South Seven Conference opener, the Marion Wildcats had played as physical as its opponents on the way to a 2-1 record. Friday night, the tables were turned.
Cahokia came to town and muscled its way past the Wildcats for a 24-14 win. The Comanches are 3-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play. Marion fell 2-2 and 0-1 in the South Seven.
"They whipped us up front, whipped us on the perimeter," said Marion coach Kerry Martin. "They physically won this football game and that is the difference in the game. The more physical team almost always wins."
The Wildcats took a 14-6 lead into the locker room at halftime, and seemed poised to take control with first possession of the second half. But the offense stalled and Cahokia scored three second-half touchdowns to come away a winner.
"It is my responsibility to have this football team ready," Martin said. "We just did not play up to our potential tonight."
After a scoreless first half, Cahokia drew first blood on a 26-yard scoring strike from Malik Shaw to Levauntez Conway for a 6-0 lead. But the Wildcats responded with back-to-back scoring drives covering 63 and 64 yards to take a 14-6 lead. The two touchdowns came in just 1:46, and were surrounded by a Cahokia three-and-out.
The Wildcats took the lead when Drake Gravatt bowled his way into the end zone from four yards out with 2:44 left in the half to cap an 11-play drive.
Following a Cahokia punt, Marion went 64 yards in just four plays in its two-minute drill. The final play was a 12-yard pass from Boston Ziegler to Dylan Kinell tucked neatly just inside the sideline to make the score 14-6.
However, after the intermission, the Wildcats managed just 91 yards and turned the ball over twice on downs in the second half. Meanwhile, the Comanches got a pair of touchdown runs from quarterback Malik Shaw, one in the third quarter and once in the fourth to give Cahokia an 18-14 lead.
Marion's final drive -- or so it seemed -- ended on downs at the Cahokia 28 when Ziegler was sacked with just over two minutes left. But Cahokia was forced to punt with 7 seconds left, and the Wildcats blocked Shaw's punt and took over at the Cahokia 31 with one tenth of a second left.
With time for one play, the Wildcats' Hail Mary pass was picked off at the 5-yard line by Darian Dean, who returned it 95 yards on the final play for the final margin.
"We had a guy open but the pressure caused him to throw something a little lower trajectory," Martin said. "It's a shot. That's all we ask for."
Shaw finished the night with 121 yards rushing and 76 yards passing for Cahokia. Marion got 153 passing yards from Zielger, who played most of the second half with a shoulder injury. Drake Gravatt was the leading rusher for the Wildcats with 38 yards, while seven different Wildcats caught passes. Jake Welch had the most catches with four for 29 yards.