In its second attempt to beat Franklin this year, Marquette's football team came a lot closer. But not close enough to save its season, as the Sabers moved on to the second round of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs with a 23-21 win over the Hilltoppers at Wauwatosa’s Hart Park on a chilly Friday night.
The Sabers jumped and high-fived their way to a postgame speech from head coach Louis Brown in the south end zone. On the opposite side of the field, somber tears from Marquette’s seniors marked the end of a season in which the Hilltoppers claimed a share of the Greater Metro Conference title and lost just two regular season games.
“The hardest part about this is not that you lose,” Marquette head coach Jeffrey Mazurczak said. “It’s that for seniors, your high school career is over. You don’t move on.”
Franklin, however, will move on. And while the Sabers' defense continued to be their backbone Friday night, the improving offense could make Franklin a threat for a deep playoff run.
“The defense is why this has been such a great season for us,” Brown said. “I knew when I became head coach that our defense would be the focus and our offense would be a work in progress. But our offense has come a long way since the beginning of the season.”
The Sabers struck first on a 1-yard touchdown run from senior running back Ben Miller with 2:30 left in the first quarter. But in just seconds, Marquette did what it couldn’t do in four quarters in its 16-0 loss to Franklin in the nonconference portion of the season: score. On its next play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Joe Greif hit star senior wideout Matt Misiewicz down the right side for a 74-yard game-tying touchdown.
Franklin reclaimed a 14-7 advantage with 8:59 left in the half when sophomore quarterback Sean McGuire hit sophomore receiver Chad Walton for a 9-yard touchdown.
Franklin’s defense forced a punt, and a 49-yard pass from McGuire to junior tight end Joe Falzon helped set up a 28-yard field goal from Matt Ward to give Franklin a 17-7 edge at halftime. That score would hold until the first play of the fourth quarter, when Falzon connected on a 43-yard field goal to give Franklin a 20-7 lead.
“I think that was a turning point,” Mazurczak said. “If we get a turnover or at least don’t allow any points there, I think we give ourselves a bit more of a shot.”
The Hilltoppers didn’t go without a fight. Senior Stanley Obiora returned the ensuing kickoff to Franklin’s 35. Marquette capitalized on the short field and scored on a 1-yard rush from Greif to cut the deficit to 20-14 with 8:50 left.
But the Sabers not only responded with another 21-yard Falzon field goal, they also took six minutes off the clock. Trailing 23-14 with three minutes left, Marquette drove to Franklin’s 28 when Sabers junior Ernie Zazueta intercepted Greif with an acrobatic sideline effort.
A Franklin fumble led to a 2-yard touchdown run from Greif, but after an unsuccessful onside kick, Marquette’s comeback bid fell just short.
“That’s a great team,” McGuire said. “If we can beat them, we can beat anyone. Our confidence is sky-high right now.”
“It didn’t need to be that close,” Brown said. “But that’s a tough team. It was a hard-hitting, well-played game. We were tough at the line of scrimmage all night. It doesn’t get much tougher than that. This is the first time we’ve been in Division 1, and I guess that was ‘Welcome to Division 1.’ That’s probably the toughest first round opponent I’ve ever played.”
Miller finished with a game-high 94 yards on 30 carries, while McGuire went 14-of-22 for 208 yards and a touchdown. Greif was 12-of-26 for 188 yards, one touchdown pass, two rushing touchdowns and one interception.
“Overall, we hurt ourselves,” Mazurczak said. “Give them all the credit in the world, because we played a very tough opponent. We have a terrific team, and we fought back, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. We say at Marquette that we build leaders, and you can still certainly do that in a loss.”
Franklin will face the winner of the Milwaukee Hamilton/Brookfield Central matchup in the second round.