OTTAWA — Forget the fact that undefeated and AP Class 1A No. 5-ranked Marquette beat first-round playoff foe Chicago Luther North (5-4) 40-6 just two weeks ago on the way to a Northeastern Athletic Conference championship.
Marquette coach Tom Jobst and his Crusaders insist they’re going to be ready for a totally different team when they take to the Gould Stadium gridiron at 7 tonight.
“We know this is a playoff game for them, it’s not just a regular season game. This is win or go home now,” senior linebacker/offensive guard Jack Donahue said. “We’re working harder than we have before. This means a lot to us right now.”
Fellow senior tight end/linebacker Elliot Kowalski, who returned a fumble 39 yards for a score against the Wildcats in Week 8, said the Crusaders have had no problems keeping up the intensity in practice despite the lopsided regular season victory.
“It’s different. It’s a playoff game this time, win or go home. You’ve got to be pumped, and we’re pumped,” Kowalski said. “Everyone’s just up more. We’re getting into it right away, not milling around. We’re ready to go.
“We’re not going to take anyone lightly. We have to think they’re going to come out and have something that they’re going to try to stop us with. We’re going to know that we have to get through them.”
Marquette standout senior fullback Curtiss Johnson (1,102 yards, 16 touchdowns this season) rumbled for 165 yards in the first matchup and quarterback Patrick Killelea (48-of-58 for 1,023 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions) capitalized with the play-action pass whenever the Wildcats loaded up the box as he threw for three touchdowns, including a pair to receiver Tyler Hellman.
Luther North coach Rick Ludwig said stopping both those trends is key for his squad.
“Defensively, the obvious goal is to stop the fullback dive and stop Johnson. We did an alright job of getting to him last game, but he broke tackles and made guys miss and turned those mistakes into big runs. We may stack a few more guys inside and rotate defensive lineman to keep guys fresh,” Ludwig said. “Our defensive backs have to do a better job of staying in their zone and not biting on the play action.”
Ludwig’s squad will try to get things going offensively in the run game with sophomore running back Felix Loja, who has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 14 scores this season, as well as running back Jeremy Jensen, who has rushed for 400 yards and five touchdowns this fall. Senior quarterback Jacob Ortiz also has run for five scores this year.
Marquette will try to maintain the winning formula that led to its 9-0 start.
“We’re just going to do what we have all season. Just play hard and don’t do anything stupid,” Donahue said. “We’re just going to play hard-nosed football like we have all year, just like we were coached to do.”
Just two years removed from an 0-9 season, the Crusaders are enjoying their magical run this fall in a city that has gone football crazy.
Wednesday night, the Crusaders shared a city-wide pep rally with the Ottawa Township football team, which also has a 9-0 record.
“It’s a dream come true. Where we’ve come from since freshman year to where we are now, it’s just unbelievable,” Donahue said. “It’s great everybody’s all behind us. It’s just a great feeling to be part of this atmosphere.”
Kowalski said it was “great” to have the support of all of Ottawa behind the two undefeated teams.
“I love it. You’ve got two teams 9-0 heading into a home playoff game. Ottawa is going to come watch us they said and we’re going to go watch them probably, so it’s great for the community and great for Ottawa,” Kowalski said. “It’s been a big turnaround. Going 0-9 two seasons ago it was sad sometimes. I didn’t want to go to practice. Now I love going to practice, love going to the games.”
NewsTribune Sports Writer Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.