No. 15 seed versus No. 2 seed? No problem.
The Lyons Township Lions (6-4) came into a first-round playoff game at one-loss Marist (now 8-2) on Friday night brimming with confidence, leapt out to a quick lead and hung on down the stretch to claim a 34-28 upset win. (Watch game highlights here.)
On the Lions’ second drive, it took just three plays to find the end zone with a 14-yard strike from Zach Mahoney to Jemari Burks, and following a Patrick Kelley interception, three more plays to do it again, this time with a 5-yard Leonard Ross plunge, giving LT a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Marist struck back with an 11-play, 80 yard drive ending in a 27-yard TD pass from Ian Woodworth to Flynn Nagel, and then got a key turnover on the next drive when the Lions fumbled at the Marist goal line and everyman Nagel recovered.
But RedHawk momentum faltered five plays later on the first play of the second quarter as Lions DB Matt Harris jumped a pass near midfield and returned it 48 yards the other way for a 21-7 LT lead.
“I’m not gonna tell you what play [it was,]” laughed Harris, the Northwestern recruit whose return from injury precipitated the Lions’ current four-game win streak. “I just saw the quarterback; I saw his eyes… I knew I had to make a big play. It’s not really that big of a deal. We got the win; that’s all I’m worried about.”
The RedHawks didn’t go away, driving 80 yards a second time on nine plays capped by a 4-yard Jordan Burger run, and then had a chance to tie it before Kelley grabbed a second key pick at the Lions’ goal line (the third pick of the day for the Lions.)
Burks would catch a Mahoney pass over the middle on a 3rd-and-15 and rumble 35 yards for another six Lions points before the end of the half, which saw LT with a 27-14 lead.
After a quiet third quarter on both sides, Mahoney scored on a 7-yard scramble for what would eventually be the deciding points. Marist scored two late touchdowns, but had their fates sealed when the Lions’ Matt Mrazek fell on a desperation onside kick with 1:48 remaining.
Mahoney was 14-of-24 for 199 yards, two TDs and one pick, plus 43 yards on twelve runs with another TD. Harris caught five passes for 110 yards and ran twice for another 32; Birks caught six for 90 yards and two TD. Ross carried 16 times for 62 yards and a TD.
Harris also had seven tackles and seven assists on defense; Billy Cramsie had five tackles and five assists, John Phillipp four tackles and eight assists and Dylante Pleasant six tackles, four assists and a sack. Benjamin Grissim also had two sacks.
“We’re playing our best right now,” said Lions coach Kurt Weinberg. “We had some key guys miss some time during the season and we had to kind of weather that storm a little bit. [But] we’re playing our best football and we’re as healthy as we’ve been right now.”
For Marist, Ian Woodworth was 37 of 54 for 413 yards, two TDs and three picks, Flynn Nagel caught 12 passes for 181 yards and two TDs and Nic Weishar caught 13 for 182 yards, the Chicago Tribune records. Jack Barry had an interception on defense.
It was a tough ending to an otherwise red-letter season for the RedHawks. Marist missed multiple opportunities to pounce on additional LT fumbles, and was bedeviled by penalties throughout the game.
“They never gave up,” said Marist coach Pat Dunne of his players. “Certain things we knew it was going to come down to, turnovers, penalties, [and] in that first half we dug ourselves a little hole... Obviously, the Lions played a great game, and it’s something that hurts.”
The Lions will now gear up for a very long trip to O’Fallon Township High School in the St. Louis area. The 8-2 Panthers (a No. 10 seed) edged past Homewood-Flossmoor on Friday, 37-35.