BALLWIN -- It was a cold and miserable first 46 minutes and 11 seconds of football Friday night at Marquette Stadium.
The temperature was dropping, the wind was howling, and unfortunately for the brave Marquette High fans that had to sit through the blustery night, the Mustangs were losing their MSHSAA Class 4 District 1 playoff opener to visiting Oakville.
But once senior wide receiver Brad Cruse hauled in quarterback Austin Powers' 35-yard rainbow throw for a touchdown that gave Marquette the lead, everything suddenly became beautiful, as the Mustangs pulled off an incredible last-minute rally to defeat the visiting Tigers, 16-14, and advance to the second round of the MSHSAA district playoffs.
"It's a great testament to these kids," Marquette head coach Ryan Thornhill said. "I thought we kind of controlled the whole game. If we didn't have those three turnovers in the first half, we wouldn't have been behind at all. But to come back like we did, just says everything about the toughness of these kids I have."
Marquette's victory also says a lot about the uncertainty of high school football, when any game can turn on a dime.
Cruse, a former volleyball player whose playing his first season of organized football, had just one catch in his high school career before hauling in what might be the biggest touchdown reception in Marquette history.
The Mustangs had never won a state playoff game before, but Cruse's catch snapped that string and broke the hearts of the equally stunned Oakville team and fans.
"It's a heartbreaker, there's just no other way to put it," Oakville head coach Arlee Connors said. "We just didn't make enough plays to win it, and they did. You have to give credit to Marquette."
Early on, all the credit would've gone to Oakville, which built a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, thanks to a 64-yard touchdown catch by senior Avion Stevenson and a 19-yard scoring run by fellow senior Derrick Brown.
The Oakville defense also forced three turnovers and sacked Marquette's Powers four times in building its two-touchdown, first-half lead.
But in the second half, the breaks started going Marquette's way almost immediately.
Stevenson muffed a punt that was recovered deep in his own territory by Marquette linebacker Joel McCombs II.
Then two plays later, Powers hit junior Chad Nieder for a 29-yard touchdown that pulled the Mustangs to within 14-10.
The teams traded punts until less than three minutes were left in the game, when Marquette took possession at the Oakville 35.
Three plays into that drive is when Cruse came up huge and gave Marquette its first lead of the game.
"I don't even know what happened," Cruse said. "It's still a blur. I just saw the ball coming, and I knew I had to catch it. Next thing I know, I was in the end zone getting tackled by my teammates."
Cruse was lucky it was only two guys that tackled him, as nearly every player on the Marquette sideline ran onto the field to congratulate him.
When order was restored, the Mustangs had a two-point lead and Oakville had just 1:46 left to try to come back.
With two timeouts left, that was almost enough time though, as Oakville drove all the way to Marquette's 31-yard line with 39.8 seconds left.
But Oliver's final pass of the season was intercepted near the goal line by Marquette's Matt Scheibel, which set off a second wild celebration -- this time a victory celebration -- on the Mustang sideline.
"It seemed like all season, if there was a 50-50 play or a 50-50 call, it never went our way," Connors said. "It was just that kind of a season, I guess. But these kids played hard all year, and we were in every game, and had a chance to win every game. So we'll take this loss, and get ready for next season."
Oakville finished its year with a 4-6 record, while Marquette improved to 5-5, and will now gear up for a playoff second round matchup against unbeaten Lafayette, next Friday night at Lafayette High in Wildwood.
The Lancers beat the Mustangs 46-7 back in Week 3.
"We're going to have to play a perfect game to beat Lafayette," Thornhill said. "We'll enjoy this win, and then we're going to get started on what we need to do to win next week."
Score by Quarters ... 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 -- Final
Oakville ................... 7 ... 7 ... 0 ... 0 -- 14
Marquette ............... 0 ... 3 ... 7 ... 6 -- 16
Oakv - Avion Stevenson 64 yard pass from Andrew Oliver (David Chopin kick) -- 24.5 ..... 7-0
Oakv - Derrick Brown 19 yd run (David Chopin kick) -- 5:28 .................... 14-0
Marq - Collin Corley 23 yd field goal -- 16.6 ..................................... 14-3
Marq - Chad Neider 29 yard pass from Austin Powers (Collin Corley kick) -- 8:12 ..... 14-10
Marq - Brad Cruse 35 yd pass from Austin Powers (kick failed) - 1:46 ........ 14-16