La Salle rallies from 21-point deficit, but North Marions goal-line stand keeps the team undefeated in conference

by: PHIL HAWKINS - The North Marion defense had no answer for La Salle running back Michael Duarte, who guided the Falcons to 26 points in the second half of Fridays game as quarterback. But the Huskies held strong against a two-point conversion attempt that would have given La Salle the lead in the final minute of the game, giving North Marion two conference wins for the first time since 2009.With less than two minutes left in Friday night’s football game between North Marion and La Salle, the Falcons capped a furious second-half comeback when quarterback Michael Duarte punched the ball in from eight yards out to pull La Salle within a point, 27-26.

But rather than tie the game with an extra point, the Falcons lined up in an offset formation to go for two and the win.

After being up 21-0 after the first half, the Huskies were in danger of letting a crucial conference game slip between their fingers until North Marion senior Brody Gragg made the play of the night to stop the Falcons and hand his team a one-point victory.

With eight players lined up on the left side of the field for the conversion, the Falcons were taking a page out of the Oregon Ducks’ playbook. La Salle snapped the ball to Duarte, who lateraled the ball across the field, but before La Salle could make any forward progress, Gragg shot past a group of blockers and wrapped up the ballcarrier.

A group of Husky defenders joined Gragg in the dog pile to put an end to the rally and give North Marion a 2-0 start to their conference schedule for the first time since 2009.

“I told our guys, get angles, and (Gragg) just saw it and took it,” said North Marion coach Doug Bilodeau. “Our defense is predicated on if you see the ball, you just got to go. There’s no reading, it’s just see the ball and go, and he took advantage of that.”

Gragg’s play put the finishing touches on an exciting night that was a tale of two contrasting halves for the Huskies and the Falcons.

North Marion built a three-touchdown lead that was started when Kyle Williamson took a 21-yard pass from Ben Crumley to put the Huskies up 7-0 with four minutes left in the first quarter.

Shane McKillip added a score toward the end of the first half on an eight-yard sweep, and the Huskies took advantage of good field position to add one more touchdown from Crumley in the final minute to take a commanding lead.

La Salle adjusted in the second half, though. They brought in Duarte behind center from his usual position at running back, and he starting moving the Falcons’ offense in no time.

by: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion players celebrate in the final seconds of Fridays 27-26 win over the visiting La Salle Falcons that put the Huskies on top of the Tri-Valley Conference standings. Along with the Gladstone Gladiators, both teams boast 2-0 records in league play this season.“They brought the guy in just to run,” said Bilodeau. “He’s a good runner.”

La Salle scored twice in the third quarter behind drives set up by Duarte’s option-keeper running plays. At the same time, the Falcons were able to bottle up North Marion’s offense and cut the score to 21-13 entering the final quarter.

After a halfback pass from Williamson to Gragg for a touchdown was called back due to holding, the North Marion offense sustained its first drive of the half that was capped when McKillip scored for the second time of the evening in the fourth quarter to put the Huskies up 27-13. The junior running back finished the night with 39 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to go along with a pair of receptions for 47 yards.

La Salle continued to press, and scored with 5:15 left to pull within 27-20. After holding North Marion’s offense on the next series, the Falcons took the ball and scored with 1:50 left in the game to set up the decisive conversion attempt.

“In the films, they always have momentum in the second half,” said Bilodeau. “They’re a young team, either they fall apart or they get momentum, and they got momentum.”

Crumley finished the game completing 11-of-19 passes for 156 yards. His favorite target was Williamson, who caught five passes for 76 yards and added one carry for 29 yards.

The win puts North Marion (4-2, 2-0) tied atop the Tri-Valley standings with No. 9 Gladstone. With only three games remaining, the Huskies are in prime position to make a run at their first playoff appearance since the team finished 4-2 in the Capital Conference in 2009 and lost to Banks in the first round of the state playoffs.

The team has already passed a major milestone in winning its first conference game in three years, but with each win, the Huskies simply want to continue improving and building toward the next week.

“We’re getting better,” said Bilodeau. “It’s a new coach and a new system. Just keep plugging along and keep chopping at the tree and make it fall.”

North Marion plays on the road Thursday when it travels to Estacada to take on the Rangers (1-5, 1-1).

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