Chicago Heights, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Host Marian Catholic was thwarted in the fourth, came up 22 yards short of a victory in its season opener.
Both the Spartans and Thornwood had late opportunities in the two-minute drill on Friday.
The T-Birds, who hadn’t gained a second-half first down, drove 57 yards and scored on fourth down with 50 seconds remaining to capture a 26-21 nonconference victory.
Marian drove from its own 39-yard line to the T-Bird 22 in the final seconds but saw the contest end on a quarterback sack.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a Spartan team that rallied from a onetime 18-7 deficit, particularly a defense that had allowed only two first downs between the first quarter and the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter.
One could argue the Spartans shouldn’t have been in a last-minute situation, as the home team had two of three interceptions in the end zone and committed eight penalties, many costly.
Marian, which fell to 1-3 in the series with the T-Birds, managed only 86 yards of offense in the opening half to trail, 12-7, at the intermission. But after falling behind, 18-7, the Spartan defense gave its offense a chance to rally. Led by linebackers Dylan Ross, Wande Oluwibe, Joseph Garcia, and Correll Young, Marian held Thornwood at bay after a 79-yard second-half kickoff return helped the visitors to a two-score advantage.
The Spartans also nearly squandered another scoring opportunity in the third quarter. After driving into the red zone from the Marian 37-yard line, the Spartans fumbled inside the Thornwood 5-yard line. However, Marian’s Derek Marin-Martinez recovered the fumble in the end zone and Eric Sebastian’s second of three perfect conversion kicks had the home team within 18-14.
An opportunistic defense gave Marian another chance midway through the final period when Aaron King pounced on a Thornwood fumble. From there, Marian navigated 55 yards and took the lead with 3:29 remaining when Randall Nauden burst into the end zone from 4 yards out for the 21-18 Spartan lead.
Marian had also taken a lead in the opening half at 7-6 when Kyle Thomas hit Zion Horn with a 38-yard scoring pass. Thomas represented much of the Spartans offense on Friday, rushing 29 times for 100 yards and passing for another 99 yards.
On Marian’s second scoring drive, Thomas hit Kaleb Isom twice on third-and-long and fourth-and-long for first downs. Horn finished with a pair of catches for 49 yards, while Nauden collected 37 rushing yards on 15 totes.
The contest took on some of the typical sloppiness of a season opener, including nine total fumbles, 22 penalties, and seven turnovers.