LEROY – Coming off an uncharacteristic poor second-half performance in their first road contest and loss at Chicago Hope Academy last week, the Marquette Crusaders needed to get off the bus Friday night at LeRoy prepared for some solid, hard-hitting football … and they did not.
At least, not at first.
After turning the ball over on downs on their first possession, the Cru flexed some muscles of their own on both sides of the ball. Marquette scored on six of the next seven possessions behind the running of Jurnee Reed, Tommy Durdan and Vinny Battestelli and the passing and running of Alex Graham, while also getting big plays on defense from Battestelli, Reed and Charlie Mullen to come away with a 40-17 victory over the Panthers.
Reed finished with 14 carries for 102 yards, Durdan 10 for 65 and two TDs and Battestelli, filling in at tailback for the injured Logan Nelson, provided a big spark with 83 yards and a TD on just five carries.
Defensively, Reed and Battestelli each had several tackles for loss and Mullen had a huge interception to help get the AP’s Class 1A No. 10 ranked Crusaders back on track.
“We came off the bus flat and that’s two weeks in a row we’ve done that and we have to find an answer for that,” Marquette coach Tom Jobst said. “But I feel good about us right now. Our kids played well. They were in a dogfight and they fought back and that’s what you need … But I’ll tell you one thing, Vinny is a hungry football player. I’ve had other running backs, so I’ve been holding him off because I didn’t want to get him hurt on offense, but he’s hitting people on offense, too. I think we’ve found a gem there.”
Marquette on its opening series went for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 45 and didn’t make it. The Panthers (3-3) seized the momentum with a three-yard TD run by Matt Stuepfert.
But the Cru (5-1) responded to that slap in the face with a 59-yard drive, the last 30 on a Graham swing pass to Durdan for the tying score. Sam Mitre’s PAT gave the locals a 7-6 edge, but they didn’t stop there.
Marquette erased a 9-7 deficit with back-to-back runs of 21 and 11 yards by Battestelli setting up a 25-yard score on a sweep right by Durdan.
Mullen then picked off a Jasper Tarr pass in the flat and returned it 28 yards to the Panthers’ 13 and from there, Graham later sneaked it in for a 21-9 halftime lead.
LeRoy got a 1-yard dive by Stuepfert (22 carries, 77 yards) to start the second half, but while the Cru defense stiffened, the offense kept rolling to Battestelli’s 9-yard scoring scamper to end the third period.
“It felt really good being back in there on offense after being out all last year,” said Battestelli, who started last season as the Cru fullback before an injury cost him much of his junior season. “We’re a good team and I felt I had to prove myself. I just did my job, did what was good for the team and things worked out for all of us today.”
Graham punched in another 1-yard score and ran in a naked bootleg for a 9-yard TD, both in the fourth quarter to set the final.
“They made some good adjustments personnel-wise and schematically, to close out the first half especially,” LeRoy coach BJ Zeleznik said. “We made some good adjustments coming out in the second half and we were moving the ball again, but the problem is that we can play offense in a phone booth, score 17 points and run the clock, but that’s not good enough to win when you can’t defend the perimeter against their athletes.
“They’re right there with the best we’ve seen this year, with Gibson City, Moweaqua A & M are both pretty good, but Marquette is by far offensively the most dynamic team we’ve seen this year, for sure.”