MARION — Friday's South Seven slugfest between playoff-bound Marion and Carbondale went down to the wire. And in a game that featured big hits, big runs, big passes and big plays, it was a play that wasn't a play that may have been most important.
Marion drew Carbondale offsides with just 1:13 left in the game on fourth-and-5, earning the first down that allowed the hosts to hang on for a 14-7 win and secure the Wildcats' 14th-straight playoff berth, the longest active streak in Southern Illinois.
The "freeze play," as Martin called it, wasn't even called in that instance by one of the coaches.
"I didn't call that," Martin said. "That's a (senior) Noah Mofield call. The coaches upstairs recommended a freeze play out of our regular offense. Noah Mofield says 'Why not run a freeze play out of our punt set, because they'll be really amped up to come get it.' So we did it. He's smart enough to call that play and I'm smart enough to run it."
Both teams are now 6-2 for the season. Marion finished the South Seven slate in second place at 4-1, while Carbondale ended conference play 3-2.
There were plenty of big plays, in the game especially on defense. Marion in particular made stop after stop to keep the Terriers' offense at bay. The Wildcats stopped the Terriers five times on downs including once on fourth and goal less than a foot away from the goal line.
"It was a defensive battle all night long," said Carbondale coach Bryan Lee. "That was a big stop there at the three-inch line. They did some smart things. They kept our passing corralled."
The teams were nearly even statistically. Each team had 14 first downs. Carbondale had 270 yards while Marion had 287. Carbondale ran 65 offensive plays while Marion ran 67.
The Terriers struck first, scoring in the first quarter after a 19-yard punt gave the Terriers the ball at the Marion 29. It took just three plays for Carbondale to get to the end zone as Korey Blythe danced in from five yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Carbondale then threatened on the next drive, moving downfield to a first-and-goal at the Marion 5. But a holding penalty wiped out another Blythe touchdown run and then the Wildcats held on fourth-and-goal.
Two possessions later, the Wildcats scored on a 68-yard drive when Drake Gravatt punched the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard run to tie the game.
The game-winning score came on second drive of the third quarter. After Marion had a field goal attempt blocked on its first possession of the half, the Wildcats forced a three-and-out before taking over on their own 43. The touchdown was a 44-yard pass from Boston Ziegler to Frankie Horner as Horner snuck behind the Terrier defense and caught the long pass in stride.
"He's really emerging," said Martin of Horner. "I feel like he's bringing some balance to our offense with Dylan (Kinell) on the other side."
Marion held Carbondale on downs on the Terriers' final three possessions, then ran out the clock after getting the first down on the penalty.
Gravatt led Marion's rushing game with 94 yards on 25 carries, while Ziegler added 61 yards on the ground and threw for 105 yards on an 8-for-14 effort. Horner caught three passes for 73 yards.
Blythe was the game's leading rusher with 116 yards on 22 attempts. Burleigh had 66 yards on 15 carries, but was just 5-for-26 passing for 74 yards.