The Marion Wildcats have been unbeatable since an embarrassing loss in Week 4 to Cahokia. But Marion will need to be hitting on all cylinders Saturday when they travel to Kankakee for the Class 5A quarterfinals, facing an opponent that is having the greatest season in its history.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m.
"The kids keep rising to the occasion and I'm proud of them," said Marion Head Coach Kerry Martin. "We're in the final eight now and we have to elevate again. This Kankakee team is pretty dang talented."
Kankakee (the "Kays") has an 11-0 record for the first time, and is advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years and third time overall.
Marion (10-1) comes in on a seven-game winning streak and has advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in 14 years. The two teams have never faced each other in the playoffs.
The Wildcats entered the playoffs as the fifth seed in 5A, and have breezed through the first two rounds beating Metamora, 41-8, and Mascoutah last week, 51-21.
"We've been good about turnovers and penalties and we have to maintain that to force teams to beat us instead of beating ourselves," Martin said. "It's bad enough you face tough opponents -- the last thing you want to do is create situations where you make it easier for them to beat you."
Junior quarterback Evan Noelle has been almost perfect during the playoffs. He has completed 31 of 40 passes for 572 yards and seven touchdowns, with only one interception. That came last week, when as the receiver hit the ground the ball popped out of his hands and into the Mascoutah defender's arms.
Noelle has also carried the ball 12 times for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Venson Newsom is the Wildcats' leading receiver, with 11 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He is followed by senior Jake Bruce, with seven catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Newsom holds the Marion career records for catches, yards and touchdowns and added "most touchdown catches in a single season" with 16 with a 53-yard touchdown catch last week.
Lukas Shrum is the top rusher with 107 yards on 18 carries. The senior also has five catches for 99 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown against Metamora.
The Kankakee Kays are the top seed in 5A. They also breezed through the first two rounds, beating Carbondale at home, 38-7, and last week Chicago Morgan Park, 49-12, on the road.
Kankakee's defense held Morgan Park to 212 total yards and just nine first downs while forcing and recovering three fumbles, including one for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Offensively, the Kays gained 347 yards with 22 first downs, scoring six touchdowns in three quarters. Leading 21-6 at the half the Kays exploded for 28 points in the third quarter.
Senior quarterback Tomele Staples completed 10 of 12 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 37 yards on four carries, picking up first downs on each of his carries.
For the season Staples has thrown 25 touchdown passes with only six interceptions.
Staples' top receivers are senior Pierre Allen and sophomore Quan McElroy and junior running back Karson King, who caught both touchdown passes.
Senior running back Nate Hill led the Kays in rushing with 94 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns. Junior running back Demere Turner gained 56 yards on seven carries and a touchdown.