The number 1 ranked Forreston Cardinals pulled into Ottawa Saturday afternoon for their Class 1A semifinal game against the number 3 ranked Marquette Crusaders, and as quickly as they got there, the engine that runs the Forreston offense was idled just as fast as Forreston jumped out of the gates early scoring on 4 of their first 6 drives, building momentum quickly with a blocked punt by Joseph Fiorello on just the 4th play of the game en route to their 35-7 win Saturday, earning Forreston their 2nd trip to Champaign and the State Finals in the past 3 seasons.
Forreston won the toss, deferred, and Marquette elected to receive. Three plays and 6 yards later Marquette was forced to punt from their own 24 yard line. Fiorello broke free off the right edge and reached Dave Marin's punt for the block. Forreston recovered the ball and returned it to the 11 yard line. Just 32 seconds later Matt Akins put the Cardinals on the board from a yard out for an early 6-0 lead after Shaun Wedmaier's PAT attempt was blocked.
Marquette would once again go three and out, being forced to punt from their own 40 yard line. Forreston would start their second drive from their own 23 yard line. They would drive to the Marquette 42 yard line. Facing a fourth and four, Hunter Daws dropped back to pass as Marquette was caught off guard, and connected with Lane Henneman for a 42 yard TD pass. The ensuing 2 point conversion was good as Forreston took a 14-0 lead with 4:28 left in the 1st quarter. This would be the only fourth down the Cardinals would convert on four tries on the night, as they were trying to eliminate the ball being in the air as much as possible with the strong winds.
Marquette started their 4th drive at the Forreston 46 yard line after Forreston failed to convert a 4th and 4 from their own 45 yard line. Marquette would put their first threatening drive of the game together, albeit they only gained 17 yards to move to the Forreston 29 yard line. Logan Komater dropped back to pass and was forced into a pass that was intercepted by AJ Christensen at the 21 yard line. Just as quick, Forreston was forced to punt after a three and out, but on the punt return Marquette bobbled the ball and Forreston recovered the fumble at the Marquette 44 yard line. On the very next play Christensen took a dive up the middle 44 yards to pay dirt as the Cardinals had a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Marquette was trying to make things happen on their 5th drive as they moved 21 yards in just under 3 minutes, but a failed 4th down try gave Forreston the ball back on their own 39 yard line. The Cardinals started to chip away at the run game again, driving 61 yards in just over 2 and a half minutes as Christensen capped off the drive with a 13 yard TD run to put the Cards up 28-0, a lead they would take with them into half time.
The Cardinal defense would hold Marquette to just 64 yards of total offense in the 1st half of the game, while putting up over 200 yards of offense. The Cards would idle down that engine starting the second half as they played more conservatively with a 4 score lead.
The Cardinals would receive the ball to begin the second half, and outside of penalties, Forreston would make one of the few mistakes they made all night. Facing a 4th and 4 once again on their own 42 yard line, and their starting running backs on the sideline, they decided to go for it and couldn't convert. Marquette would take that momentum change and work with it, eating up almost 5 minutes of clock driving 30 yards to the Cardinal 12 yard line before the defense stiffened and stopped the Crusaders on 4th down.
On their second drive of the half Forreston would only eat up a minute and a half of the clock as they went three and out. Marquette would once again begin to drive down the field as they got deep into Forreston territory again. This time Komater dropped back to pass, was flushed out to his right where he was hit and coughed up the ball. Garett Badertscher was there to pick up the ball for Forreston at their own 23 yard line with 12 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.
In typical Forreston fashion, they quickly went to work and drove the ball 38 yards to the Crusader 39 yard line. From there Daws dropped back to pass for only the 3rd time on the night and found Christensen on the right side. Christensen would cut left, break a tackle, cut right, slip another tackle, cut left and into the end zone for a 39 yard TD play, putting Forreston up 35-0 with 9:58 left in the game and a trip to Champaign guaranteed.
Right away on Marquette's ensuing drive, Komater would drop to pass and Noah Gipe was right there for the interception at the Marquette 25 yard line, but a quick three and out gave the Crusaders the ball at their own 24 yard line. With Forreston subs in, Marquette would finally get on the scoreboard as they drove 76 yards in just over 5 minutes, capped off with a Joe Hawks 7 yard TD run to make the score 35-7. Forreston would be able to run 2 minutes off the clock before they turned the ball back over on downs, but Marquette ran 1 play and let the clock run off for the final 34 seconds as they started shaking hands with Forreston before the clock reached zero in a great display of sportsmanship.
The Forreston defense shut down the Crusader offense all night, holding a team that averaged 45 points a game to just 172 yards of offense on the night. Forreston would finish the game with 319 yards of offense, as the second half was used to just run the clock out and get out of the game healthy.
For Marquette, All State fullback Zach Dyche led the rushing attack with 24 carries for 64 yards. Ryan Donahue would chip in with 12 carries for 29 yards and 3 receptions for 27 yards before a knee injury would sideline him for the night. Joe Hawks would score the lone Crusader touchdown and finished the night with 4 carries for 16 yards and 3 receptions for 34 yards. in the passing game Logan Komater was 8-14 for 72 yards with 2 INT and 1 fumble.
For the Cardinals, AJ Christensen was Mr. Everything as he finished the night with 10 carries for 86 yards with 2 TD's, 1 reception for 39 yards and a TD, and an INT on defense. Gavin Fuchs would chip in with 10 carries for 45 yards, Garett Badertscher had 8 carries for 34 yards and a fumble recovery on defense, while Lane Henneman had 2 carries for 23 yards and 1 reception for 42 yards and a TD. Matt Akins carried the ball 7 times for 13 yards and 1 TD, while Hunter Daws was 2-4 passing for 81 yards with 2 TD and had 2 carries for 19 yards. In all, 10 Forreston runners would carry the ball for 238 yards on the night.
The number 1 ranked 13-0 Cardinals will match up with the number 5 ranked Decatur St Teresa Bulldogs at 10 am on Friday with the state championship on the line. The Bulldogs will enter the game with a 12-1 record out of the Central Illinois Conference after they knocked off unranked Hardin Calhoun 34-20 today.
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