Marines Keep Playoff Hopes Alive
Friday night at Higley Field, the Marinette Marines hosted the Denmark Vikings in a battle of two North Eastern Conference foes. Needing four conference wins to make playoffs, both teams entered the matchup with one such victory. Down to the last three games of the season, one team's playoff hopes would end Friday.
Denmark went with trickery on the opening kickoff as they booted an onside kick and recovered. It didn't take long for the Vikings to cash in on the gamble. Just two plays later Brady Jens caught Austin Bisbee's pass after a Marine defender fell down resulting in a 44-yard touchdown pass at the 11:17 mark in the first quarter.
"Something was in the air because we came out flat. For a homecoming game and playing a team we feel we could be real competitive against, I didn't understand it. Luckily, our kids responded the right way and did a nice job of battling back." Marine Head Coach Andy Walters said of the rocky start.
Marinette would get their revenge in the second quarter. On a drive largely decided by the legs of James Jagielski, the Marines drove the ball 80 yards on 13 plays capped off by a 10-yard pitch-and-catch from Jagielski to Spencer Hipke. Marinette converted two key third downs on the drive that tied the score at 6-6.
With each team coming up with key stops late in the second quarter, the score remained tied at 6-6 heading into halftime.
On the second play after intermission, a Vikings' fumble was recovered by the Marines at the Denmark 37-yard line. Jagielski carried the ball five times before Hipke took over. On a third down and four Hipke gained five yards to set the Marines up with a first and goal. Two quick Viking stops set up a third and goal from the four-yard line. On third down Jagielski picked up three yards but was stopped short. On fourth and one, Jagielski was denied the end zone and Denmark took over on downs.
The Marine defense forced a Denmark punt after just three plays and Marinette took over at the 47-yard line. Marinette soon found themselves in a fourth and one on the 38-yard line. Jagielski took the ball right and pounded his way for two yards and a first down. With just 45.9 seconds left in third, Jason Bruning took the handoff 24 yards to pay dirt. After a successful two-point conversion, Marinette took a 14-6 lead into the final quarter.
It took just 48 seconds in the fourth quarter for Denmark to tie the score again at 14-14. Bisbee connected with Jens, this time on a 16-yard score.
"Our defense did a nice job all night against the run. They got us on a few plays here and there but I was very impressed with how they were able to throw the ball. On a lot of those plays Bisbee threw a nice ball and our coverage wasn't all that bad," Coach Walters stated.
Marinette started with the ball on their own 35-yard line before marching 65 yards for the score. On fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, Jagielski pushed the pile and reached the ball past the goal line. Jagielski had to come out for the two-point conversion, but Matt Eldredge stepped up and completed a pass to Connor Nelson in the end zone. Marinette grabbed a 22-14 advantage.
On the ensuing drive, Denmark fumbled again, and Marinette recovered taking over on the Viking 25-yard line. Just five plays later Hipke punched in a one-yard TD run. Jagielski threw a jump-pass to Riley Thill for the two-point conversion and Marinette took a 30-14 lead with just 2:30 left in the game.
Denmark did not go down without a fight. Running their hurry up offense, the Vikings gashed the Marine defense and quickly got the ball down to the Marinette 21-yard line. Denmark ran a screen pass to their right that brought the ball all the way to the three-yard line with 33.8 seconds left. Bisbee slammed in from three yards out and the successful two-point conversion made it a one possession game, 30-22 with 27.5 left on the clock.
Everyone knew the onside kick was coming again, but the Marines could not recover. The Vikings fell on the lose ball and took over on the 48-yard line. On their first play, however, the snap went over Bisbee's head. He recovered and threw the ball to Jens but it was all for not as the Marines tackled him behind the line for a six-yard loss. Bisbee and the Vikings hurried to the line, and spiked the ball with 2.3 seconds left.
It was down to one final heave for Denmark. Bisbee avoided pressure and fired the ball to Jens once again, who came down with the ball but was tackled at the 22-yard linewith no time left on the clock and Marinette narrowly held on for the 30-22 victory.
"When you're in this game long enough, you realize it's not over until it's over. We didn't play very well on special teams tonight, that's been one of our strong suits all season. They had two onside kicks on us, that's on me as a coach, we have to do a better job of preparing against that stuff," Walters said after the wild finish.
Jagielski accounted for 230 total Marine yards including 201 rushing. He also scored one rushing teedee and threw for another. Hipke ran the ball for 63 yards on 11 attempts and also scored once.
"We're sticking to what we have done to the past couple of weeks. We've eliminated turnovers and we've been able to control the clock. When we haven't been able to sustain drives we have still been able to take up a lot of the clock," added Walters after the win.
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