MADISON — The Marquette Catholic Explorers made quick work of the Metro East Lutheran Knights on Saturday at Madison Senior High School.
The Explorers faced little opposition in blanking the Knights 48-0 in Prairie State Conference action. With the win, Marquette improved to 5-2 overall and 5-0 in the PSC, while MELHS' struggles continued, as it fell to 0-7 and 0-5.
The stars of the day for the Explorers were the defense and running back D'Avion Peebles. The defense contained Metro to 11 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers. Peebles then rushed 11 times for 82 yards and 3 touchdowns and threw for another one on a 21-yard scoring strike.
Marquette head coach Darrell Angleton was pleased with the performance, especially the defense.
“The defense has played good all year,” Angleton said. “The last rushing touchdown we gave up was in the second quarter against Mater Dei (in Week 2). The front six has been tough all year and the thing is, our pass coverage is improving. Kaleb Ware had a really nice pass block (today). I tell them, 'I don't care about the interception guys, get the pass block and get it to our offense.' At anytime I can speed it up and run no huddle, or I can slow it down and run some clock.”
Peebles enjoyed his monster day. He scored on 17-yard and 9-yard TD runs in the first half before adding an 11-yard run and a 21-yard pass for scores in the second half.
The Explorers led 20-0 at the half before tacking on 28 more points in the second half, assisted by three MELHS turnovers in the third quarter.
“I've got to give it to the O-line,” Peebles said. “In the first half we kind of missed things (early), got it fixed and then in the second half we really picked it up and held our blocks. We all have to do what we do, find holes and hit them hard.”
The afternoon didn't start off bad for the Knights. They held Marquette to a failed field goal attempt on its first drive and didn't allow any points on the board until four seconds remained in the first quarter, as Peebles raced in from 17 yards out.
“That first quarter they drove down the field, we stopped them, they missed the field goal and that was an emotional boost for us,” Metro head coach Matt Tschudy said. “But there were some stupid mistakes down around the 20-yard line (second half) and we turned the ball over. It's pretty easy to score once you get inside the 20.”
The real issue was the lack of blocking from MELHS' offensive line. Marquette had constant pressure in the back field, tackling the Knights' backs for losses and sacking quarterback Kam Williams.
“Marquette's a pretty good football team,” Tschudy said. “They've got some pretty big, athletic lineman and linebackers, so we knew going in this week it was going to be tough for us. We're a pretty young team, a lot of freshmen and sophomores and our line isn't anything huge, so we knew it was going to be a challenge. We were proud of them that they stuck through four quarters of football.”
Explorers' defensive tackle James Malone admitted they take a lot of pride in the defensive effort and he believes they're pretty good in the trenches.
“All I've heard is our defensive line is going to be No. 1 this year,” Malone said. “I'm coming off a four-week injury and these guys supported me all the time. I couldn't have done it (today) by myself. We have Alex Tesson, a senior, Tyler Menke a senior and Alex Roberts a junior and they're out there supporting me in everything. We all come out practice 100 percent and show it at the games. You practice like you play.”
Marquette started getting the offense rolling in the second quarter. Quarterback Brady McAfee connected with wide receiver John Blachford for a 3-yard TD strike at the 4:23 mark of the second quarter. MELHS blocked the PAT attempt, leaving the Explorers ahead 13-0.
Peebles then punched in a 9-yard rushing TD with 1:37 to go in the half. Liam Maher kicked the extra point and Marquette was able to take a 20-0 advantage into the break.
Angleton credited a balanced attack through the single wing offense for the Explorers. There are a lot of direct snaps to the running backs, leaving McAfee as an extra blocker and a lot of extra weapons to utilize.
“You can watch it on film and say, 'I see what they're doing,'” Angleton said. “But when you run the single wing and I'm running, running, running on you, it makes it difficult to defend any passing. The thing about the single wing is any of my guys in the back field can run it and any of my guys can throw it. I think it's really important to have that kind of threat. I can run short side, strong side and I can pass. I want to make it difficult for you to defend me.”
In the second half, the Explorers recovered their first of three fumbles on the second play from scrimmage. Jayce Maag gobbled up a loose ball, setting up Peebles, who then raced into the end zone from 11 yards out at the 11:01 mark of the third quarter. The PAT made it 27-0.
With a little trickery, Peebles threw his TD pass 21 yards to Blachford at the 5:10 mark of the third. After the kick it was 34-0.
A backward lateral pass resulted in MELHS' next fumble. McAfee smothered the loose ball, leading to Swingler's 2-yard run at the 2:18 mark of the third quarter. The PAT made it 41-0 and started the running clock. Swingler led the Explorers with 94 yards on 12 carries on the afternoon.
Metro fumbled again on the first play of its next drive and this time Jake Reiter scooped up the ball. McAfee ran it in himself on the next play for a 13-yard TD right through the gut. Maher's kick made it 48-0.
With East Alton-Wood River's 13-6 victory over (Kincaid) South Fork on Friday, it leaves Marquette in good position in the PSC. The Explorers sit 5-0, while the Ponies are now 4-1 with two weeks to play. The two squads meet in Week 9 at South Fork.
Peebles said the conference title is an important goal for Marquette.
“That means a lot,” Peebles said. “We'll have South Fork on the road (Week 9) and getting ready for the playoffs. South Fork is going to be our best opponent and we'll have guys step it up. Everybody needs to step it up, O-line, defense, we'll step it up.”
As for the Knights, they are focusing on finishing strong and seeing where the program goes in the future. The co-op between MELHS and Madison is in flux for next year. No decision has been made on it as they await to see the enrollment numbers, so Saturday could have marked the last game at Madison High, time will tell.
Metro will return to an independent football team though, as Dupo will take its place in the PSC. Tschudy just hopes to keep improving whatever the product is on the field. The Knights are 3-0 at the JV level this year, so the future could be bright.
“There's been no decision (on the co-op) yet and we haven't discussed that much,” Tschudy said. “We've still got to look at our enrollment and see if it's able to continue. If it's able to continue we want it to continue, so we're planning on this not being the last game here at Madison.
“As the program continues to build we're excited. We've got two more JV games and we're excited for future years as well.”
Marquette faces Mount Olive at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 for its next contest, while MELHS heads to Pawnee at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14.