LOWELL - There was no place for Mike Koczwara to hide yesterday, so he went back onto the field. Needing only to run out the clock, the Marian fullback fumbled, leading to a first and goal for Lowell Catholic from the Mustangs' 1. Marian coach Phil Marchegiani needed all his troops to make the defensive stand of their season.
"I pulled him out of the game and I told him, 'I need you to focus on defense right now. We can't change the past,' " Marchegiani said. "Obviously, we don't want to give anybody anything, we want to make them earn it."
The Crusaders' drive failed to gain an inch and Marian prevailed, 29-21.
"We get it in, we're probably still playing, going to overtime," said Lowell Catholic coach Tim Walsh.
Marian recovered a first-quarter fumble at the Crusaders' 26. A sack pushed the Mustangs back, but quarterback Luke McCann pushed harder, connecting with freshman Trevor Rabidou for a 35-yard touchdown pass through the middle of the field.
After solid tackling forced a Marian turnover on downs, the Mustangs' defense finally bent. Cornelius Moore rushed for a 73-yard touchdown around left end, tying the game for Lowell Catholic.
In the second quarter, McCann struck again, hitting Mike Del La Femina, who wriggled through several tackles for a 25-yard score.
A torrid pace ensued. Lowell Catholic's Nick Loiselle let loose one of his effortless looping throws, which landed in the arms of Moore for a 57-yard cruise to the end zone and another tie.
On the kickoff, Miguel Ortiz broke through a gang tackle to return an 85-yard touchdown, reclaiming the lead for Marian, 21-14.
Lowell Catholic (6-3) tied the game on the first drive in the third quarter, going 88 yards on 14 plays. Loiselle lofted an 8-yard TD pass to wide-open Evan Conway.
Marian (7-1) answered with a clock-eating, 11-play drive that was capped by an Ortiz keeper out of the ever-popular Wildcat offense. On the extra-point attempt, Bill Kinsherf faked the kick, then threw to Alex Jursek to give Marian an 8-point lead.
"That 2-point conversion was a great call. It takes a lot of nerves," Walsh said of his opponent's decision. "It's a gutsy call and they executed well. It was the perfect time for that."
Junior Teddy Gatchie returned the following kickoff to the Marian 19. The drive would have ended on an incompletion on fourth down, but a defensive holding penalty gave Lowell Catholic a first down.
But first and goal from the 10 was as far as the Crusaders would get. Loiselle was constantly pressured and threw four incompletions to turn the ball over on downs with 2:09 remaining.
On the first Marian play from scrimmage, Koczwara coughed it up, giving Lowell Catholic a first down at the Mustangs 12. The Crusaders earned a first and goal from the 1 with about a minute to play, but the disciplined Marian team forced a turnover on downs after four runs.
"For us, it comes down to alignment, assignment, and technique," Marchegiani said. "Our guys need to know where to go, what to do, and how to do it. Obviously, they did when it counted most."