There aren’t many chances for the Marquette Academy football team to show that last fall’s quick exit from the IHSA postseason is well behind them. While they’ve certainly put on display from week to week in this so-far undefeated season that the home loss to Fulton is now a distant memory, the next playoff looms two weeks away.
But the Crusaders can sure do themselves a big favor on pairings night by taking care of business this Friday.
Rockford Christian appeared on paper to be the Cru’s most significant threat to a fourth straight Northeastern Athletic Conference crown and their sixth in seven seasons in the league, and that has come to pass. The 2A Royal Lions (5-2 overall) are the only other undefeated NAC team remaining, and though they’ve played only one team with a winning record (a 15-14 non-conference loss to 5-2 Chicago Christian in Week 2), they have a chance to win the league if it can beat MA and one-loss Kirkland Hiawatha in the next two weeks. That is, assuming Marquette beats 2-5 South Beloit next week.
“We’re playing for a conference championship and we’re playing for a high seed,” said Marquette coach Tom Jobst. “That’s all playoff stuff. This game is going to be a challenge with a lot at stake for both teams this week.”
The Rockford school’s program was a very successful part of its current league until 2011 – in fact, Marquette took its place when RC left for the Big Northern that winter – following 1A playoff appearances in 2003 and ’05 with four straight 3A postseasons and one in 4A before missing at 5-4 in their final NAC campaign.
The Lions then fell on hard times, going 3-42 over the next five seasons, including a 29-game losing streak. That ended with a 2-7 mark in coach Mark Frederick’s season in 2016 and the playoff drought ended in his third, last year’s club going 5-5 and earning the 2A postseason.
This year’s Lions offense – aside from Marquette, the conference’s only 200-point team through seven weeks – relies heavily on versatile senior back Jared Frederick, power back Connor Cunningham and the speedy Malachi White and Peyton Skeel, as well as a line that includes Elijah Nitz (6-4, 280), Jaden Ferlita (6-2, 240) and junior Sean Hyacinthe (6-0, 280).
Quarterback Nathan Dammann, who missed two games to injury early, threw for 146 yards and two TDs in a 44-8 win over Walther Christian.
“Rockford Christian is a very good team,” said Jobst. “They’re well-coached, execute well, have good size on the line and good speed in the backfield. They mix the run and the pass very well and are very efficient at both … They run the spread, which we’ve seen, but they just do some things differently than any of the teams we’ve seen and probably have more tools to do those things with than most, as well.
“They’re just good, a playoff-caliber team. We’ll have to be on our toes, that’s for sure … We’ll have to play our game: play strong defense and control the ball.”
Frederick, Cunningham, Nitz, Ferlita, Skeel and senior Fulton Newcomer lead a defense that’s allowed just 50 points this season. They’ll have their hands full with a Jack Snook-led Crusaders team that’s averaged nearly that many points per game this season.
Though both saw limited action in last Friday’s 63-0 win at River Valley, seniors Max Donahue and Evan Green will both be available for full-time duty and will be used as needed in this Week 8 contest.
Rockford Christian Royal Lions (5-2, 3-0) at Marquette Crusaders (7-0, 4-0)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday at Gould Stadium, Ottawa.
Radio: WCMY-AM 1430.
Last meeting: First meeting.