When Marshall and Waterloo clash on the gridiron, it’s always going to be a battle.

This year’s go-around lived up to the hype. In a game that came down to the wire, the Cardinals bested their rivals in a thriller, 20-9, becoming WIAA playoff-eligible in the process.

The play of the game came late in the fourth quarter, with Marshall hanging on to a slim 13-9 lead. The Cardinals had Waterloo backed deep into their own territory, and forced the Pirates into fourth and 12 on their own 3-yard line.

“They came out on that fourth down in a look that they hadn’t shown yet tonight but had shown on film, and we were ready for it,” said Marshall head coach Matt Kleinheinz. “I was ready to call timeout; I told our defensive coordinator… He said, ‘No, no. We’ve got this; we’ve practiced this all week.’”

The Cardinals proved their defensive coordinator prophetic; Gus Timpel rose up to snatch Waterloo quarterback Chase Bostwick’s pass, and soon had a convoy of blockers in front of him.

“I saw that ball; at first, I was thinking, ‘Oh shoot, better catch this,’” Timpel said. “As soon as I looked up with the ball in my hands, I had three teammates in front of me blocking, and I saw the clear lane to the end zone. That’s when I knew we were going to wrap it up.”

Timpel’s 25-yard pick-six put Marshall up 20-9 following Joey Chiuchiolo’s extra point with just 1:47 left to play.

After a short ensuing kickoff, the Cardinal defense finished the job; Bryce Frank recovered a fumble two plays later to seal the victory.

“This was our last home conference game,” said Marshall’s Dylan Horstmeyer, who ran for a pair of scores on the night. “We wanted to go out with a win.”

“Nothing better,” added Jack Moen, who complimented Horstmeyer with punishing runs down the middle throughout the night.

Horstmeyer and Moen set the game’s tempo early and often, combining for 261 yards on the ground. A 16-play, 77-yard drive that took over nine minutes of game time off the clock was punctuated by a 2-yard plunge from Horstmeyer, putting the Cardinals up 7-0 early in the second.

“Jack and Dylan did a nice job of grinding in the backfield all night,” added Kleinheinz.

Waterloo’s offense — though effective at times through the air — struggled when the field shrunk in the red zone. Two second-quarter Pirate drives stalled inside the Marshall 5-yard line; Waterloo netted just one field goal between both drives to make it a 7-3 game heading into the half.

“Our mental preparation for the game (needs to change),” said Waterloo head coach Dave Frisell. “It’s a long time since we won a game, and I think winning that game last week, our kids got a little bit comfortable … This was supposed to be our big rival, and we were hoping to have more energy and enthusiasm to start the game.”

Frisell was pleased, however, with his team’s energy once the second half began; the Pirates took their first lead of the night with 4:27 remaining in the third when Bostwick found Cody Kegler on a 36-yard strike that reached the end zone. A failed PAT left the score 9-7 in favor of the Pirates.

Once again, Marshall responded by marching down the field, putting together a 10-play, 59-yard drive. Horstmeyer capped the drive with his second score of the night, making it a 13-9 game to set up the late theatrics.

In recording their second win in a row, Marshall (2-5, 2-1 Capitol South) becomes eligible for the postseason for the 25th time in program history.

“It would have been easy for us two weeks ago to just throw in the towel. They found a way to grind one against Belleville; they found a way to grind one out tonight,” said Kleinheinz. “If we win next week, we’re a conference champion; there isn’t anyone outside of our football program — when we were sitting at 0-5 — that would have thought that. For us to be in the position that we are — go win next week and we’re conference champions — that’s pretty special.”

Horstmeyer led all rushers with 148 yards on 30 carries, followed by Moen with 113 yards on 22 carries. Abdon Tonche-Aguero led the Pirates with 30 yards on the ground.

Bostwick racked up 213 passing yards on 12 for 29 attempts; Craig Ward led the Cardinals going 2 for 4 with 38 yards.

Waterloo’s Caleb Hager was the game’s leading receiver with 57 yards, while Cole Denniston led Marshall with 33 yards through the air.

As a team, Marshall racked up 18 first downs to just 8 for Waterloo, though the Pirates did win the turnover battle, recovering three fumbles.

Waterloo (1-6, 0-2 Capitol South) faces a tall task; to become playoff-eligible, the Pirates need to win their final two games of the season.

The Cardinals travel to Cambridge next week in a battle atop the Capitol South Conference. Waterloo returns home to play New Glarus/Monticello.

Both contests are slated for 7 p.m. kickoffs.

MARSHALL 20, WATERLOO 9

Waterloo 0 3 6 0 — 9

Marshall 0 7 0 13 — 20

Marshall — Horstmeyer, 2 run (Chiuchiolo kick).

Waterloo — FG, J. Aguero, 22.

Waterloo — Kegler, 35 pass from Bostwick (kick failed).

Marshall — Horstmeyer, 2 run (pass failed).

Marshall — Timpel, 25 interception return (Chiuchiolo kick).

First Downs — W 11, M 20. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — W 18-61, M 52-247. Passing Yards — W 215, M 23. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — W 13-32-1, M 3-6-0. Fumbles-lost — W 2-2, M 3-3. Penalties — W 9-60, W 5-55.

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