KANKAKEE -- In the quarterfinals of the IHSA football playoffs there are no pretenders and Saturday with a spot in the 5A semifinals up for grabs No. 5 seed Marion gave the top seed Kankakee Kays all they wanted and more before losing 44-38 on a touchdown with a little more than a minute remaining.
"It was a battle," said Marion coach Kerry Martin. "We were in good shape, but the ball bounced a couple ways -- the wrong way -- and we didn't get some stops and the next thing you know we're out of time."
Marion finished the season with a 10-2 record while Kankakee remained undefeated at 12-0 and will play No. 7 seed Morton (10-2) that upset previously undefeated three-seed Mahomet-Seymour, 40-28.
"It was a great football game," Martin said. "The most points they've given up all year was 20 and we scored 38 on them. The only time they've been down all year was on the opening kickoff of the first game and they were down for three minutes and then they took the lead and never were behind the rest of the season until we took the lead in the first quarter. Kankakee was very complimentary saying we were the best team they played and they had played two schools that are playing each other in the 6A quarterfinals. To put us in that category was a good feeling."
The Wildcats had taken the lead 38-36 with 6:50 remaining on a three-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run by Brody Larson following an interception by Jake Bruce, his sixth of the season.
Mason Gooch's kickoff pinned the Kays down near their goal line, but Kankakee used up five minutes and 41 seconds to drive the length of the field using trickery along way with a halfback pass from Karson King to Quanterious McElroy for a first down. With 1:09 remaining quarterback Tomele Staples scored on a two-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was good and the Kays led by six.
The Wildcats weren't through after Evan Noelle and Venson Newsom connected for the eighth time to keep the drive going, but with 34 seconds remaining Nazir Hill picked off Noelle to seal the win.
"We ran a play that has worked really well for us, but it didn't work this time," Martin said. "We live or die with it."
Kankakee took the early lead on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Staples to Pierre Allen 3:36 into the game. Marion came right back and took the lead, 8-7, on a one-yard run by Larson followed by a two-point conversion.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 15-7 on an eight-yard run by Lukas Shrum to open the second quarter and came right back on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Noelle to Newsom down the left sideline to extend the lead even further 22-7.
However, the Kays closed out the first half with three touchdowns starting with a fumble recovery that led to a six-yard run by Demere Turner followed by a 16-yard touchdown pass to McElroy to cut the lead to 22-21.
Noelle and Newsom connected again down the left side line for a long touchdown, but an illegal tackle negated the touchdown leaving the play as a 63-yard completion and a half the distance to goal penalty. The Wildcats came up empty-handed when Noelle fumbled and the Kays recovered with 56 seconds left.
Kankakee then marched the length of the field again scoring on a three-yard touchdown pass to King to take a 28-22 lead at the half.
Newsom and Noelle hooked up again to open the third quarter for another long pass for a touchdown. Larson ran in the two-point conversion and the Wildcats led 30-28.
But Kankakee came back on a Jyaire Hill three-yard run and the Kays converted the two-pointer to retake the lead 36-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
Kankakee 44, Marion 38
Marion 8 14 8 8 -- 38
Kankakee 7 21 8 8 -- 44
First Downs: Mar 25, Kan 22; Penalties-Yards: Mar 5-30, Kan 8-73; Fumbles-Lost: Mar 3-2, Kan 3-0.
RUSHING: MAR-Lukas Shrum 16-84-1TD, Brody Larson 6-43-2TD, Cole Bundren 3-17, Evan Noelle 9-(-6). KAN-Nate Hill 11-62, Tomele Staples 8-30-1TD, Demere Turner 10-27-1TD, Jyaire Hill 4-13-1TD, Josiah Mason 1-3.
PASSING: MAR-Evan Noelle 18-26-2int-314-2TD. KAN-Tomele Staples 20-24-1int-221-3TD, Karson King 1-1-0int-12.
RECEIVING: MAR- Venson Newsom 8-217-2TD, Jake Bruce 6-70, Mason Gooch 3-25, Lukas Shrum 1-2. KAN-Pierre Allen 5-107-1TD, Karson King 5-46-1TD, Christian Whalum 3-21, Nate Hill 3-14, Quanterious McElroy 1-16-1TD, Maurice Burkes 1-9, Jyaire Hill 1-1.