Both Marquette and Princeville, who will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Gould Stadium in Ottawa in the first round of the IHSA’s Class 1A football playoffs, came into this season with a few question marks as far as their lineups were concerned.
On paper, because of its 8-1 record and No. 2 seed in the bracket, it appears the Crusaders have found answers to those questions a little quicker than the 5-4 No. 15 seed Princes, but don’t let records deceive you. There’s danger any time teams put on the pads when it comes to the postseason, and Marquette head coach Tom Jobst knows his team will have to once again be on top of its game.
“We’re playing well, but I know we’ll have stiff competition this week,” Jobst said of the opener of his program’s ninth straight postseason experience. “I tell you, our bracket is nasty, but we’re not looking ahead. We have to get by this one, and that won’t be easy. They may be 5-4, but they play good ball, so we’ll have to be at our best.”
The only previous meeting between the two schools took place in the spring at Princeville, when the Princes rolled up 456 offensive yards in a 37-14 pounding of the Crusaders. But gone from that PHS team are the ones who did the most damage, quarterback Sam Streitmatter (221 pass yards) and back Hunter Boland (165 rush, 3 TDs).
“What I took away from that game was that it was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life and I was glad when it was over,” Jobst joked. “Looking at the film recently, it was a bad night in a lot of ways for us. We didn’t play well, they were very good, and it was ugly.
”You always take some things away from a game, but I look at what they did last year and what they do this year, there are some differences because there are different players. We’ll just have to go into the game with a basic idea, but we know we’ll have to be flexible.”
Stepping up for the Princes into new positions are two of the wide receivers from that team. Senior Denver Hoerr, who had 177 receiving yards in that spring contest, is now the top back for an offense that rushed for 1,768 yards and 16 TDs as a team. At QB is junior Jordan Johnson, who has thrown for 343 yards this season but has no TD passes.
If it’s close, the game could come down to the toe of senior RJ Ahten, who kicked a game-winning, 37-yard field goal with no time left to beat then-No. 4 Annawan-Wethersfield 9-8 in Week 3, Princeville’s only win against a team with a winning mark.
The offense seems to have found its stride the last two weeks with more points than in all previous weeks combined. Princeville claimed a 33-16 win over 0-9 Cambridge and a 29-7 victory over 1-8 Stark County.
“Coming into this season, that was the concern, that we lost a ton through graduation,” Princeville coach Jon Carruthers said. “We lost our whole backfield, lost an all-state lineman, lost all our linebackers and most of our defensive line, so getting these kids in-game experience has been a key, and they’ve improved every week. … I knew we had talent, it just took a while to get up to game speed and to jell.
“We’re a run-first team, and that boils down to who can control the line of scrimmage. Whoever can put together some nice drives, show some ball-control offense and maintain ball security has the better chance.”
The Crusaders, behind 1,000-yard rusher Tom Durdan, backfield mates Jurnee Reed and Julian Alexander, and quarterback Alex Graham, average 45.3 points and 415.1 total yards per game on offense, and defensively surrender just 186 total yards a contest. Most of the 175 points allowed came in a 62-42 win over playoff-bound Hope Academy and in fourth-quarter mop-up time (67 points) against the backups.
“It would be nice if we could shorten the game by controlling the ball and do our best to get ahead on the scoreboard,” Jobst said. “We just can’t afford mistakes, including penalties. That’s a must in any game, but when you get into the playoffs, it’s essential.”
IHSA Class 1A Playoffs
Princeville (5-4) at Marquette (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday at Gould Stadium, Ottawa
Last meeting: Princeville 37, Marquette 14 (spring 2021)
Friday Night Drive pick: Marquette