JOLIET -- The butt-whooping absorbed by the Marion Wildcats in their second-round Class 5A playoff football game at Joliet Catholic Academy was at least swift enough to allow for some fun.
The Hilltoppers ran through, over, past and around Marion in a 49-7 victory Saturday night at Joliet Memorial Stadium to earn the right to face unbeaten Highland in the quarterfinals. The running mercy clock was started with 8:29 left in the third quarter.
So over those final quick minutes players who don't normally play got onto the field. And senior lineman Justin Lambert got to do something he'd obviously always wanted to try -- kick a kickoff.
For the record, it was not a good kick.
Neither was the game, from the Wildcats' perspective, but Joliet Catholic (7-4) proved that despite rallying for a second-half win in Week 9 just to make the playoffs, nobody should be surprised if they hoist another state trophy in a few weeks.
Senior running back Keenan Hailey was as impressive as his statistics. He entered the game with 1,826 rushing yards and went 22, 14 and 11 yards on JCA's first series after forcing Marion to punt.
Hailey, who finished with 15 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown, set up teammate Nick Iannantone for a 7-yard score that got the Hilltoppers off and rolling. Iannantone had 10 rushes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
"They're really good," said Marion coach Kerry Martin, whose team finished 7-4. "They're really good up front. The thing you notice is that the running back is special but there were so many times that he was untouched. He was untouched numerous times going past the line of scrimmage. That's a sign that the guys up front are really good."
Marion's first three possessions all had promising moments. The opener had a long reception by Dylan Kinell, the second had a fourth-down conversion by freshman Venson Newsom and the third featured the Wildcats digging out of a third-and-22 hole and driving to the red zone.
But that drive was halted when quarterback Boston Ziegler was intercepted at the 2-yard line by Kurt Weis, who later also picked off Marion's other quarterback, Lucas Will.
Marion's other two possessions in the first half resulted in a turnover on downs and a punt.
As good as Hailey and Iannantone were, the Hilltoppers went into halftime with a 29-0 lead thanks to quarterback Jordan Alvarez throwing touchdowns of 39 and 25 yards to Ja'aire Mack. Those two hooked up again for a 6-yard score to start the running clock in the third quarter.
"We told the kids at halftime that when you make mistakes against really good teams, the further you go in the playoffs, those missed opportunities are magnified," Martin said. "The room for error is so small against really good football teams. … We could've executed some things better and made some plays. But we kind of got rattled I think in the second quarter. We kind of lost our way a little bit."
The second half started with Iannantone scoring on a 37-yard jaunt, then Ziegler being intercepted by Joey Bueno to give JCA a short field for Mack's third TD from Alvarez.
With the outcome settled, the fun began with backups and after the Hilltoppers added another score, Will turned on the jets for a 79-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats on the board.
Jake Welch was brought in for the extra-point kick and nailed it, then Lambert was sent out with the kickoff team.
It wasn't pretty, but it was fun.
And a fitting sendoff.
Martin said this year's team allowed him to just coach -- he didn't have to deal with any drama or squabbles or complaints. And he had fun, too.
"The thing that stands out in my mind is just what a great bunch they are to work with and coach every day," Martin said. "Football was fun every day with these guys. They played hard, they love football, they love each other, and overall that's what it's all about."