OTTAWA, Ill. — Brody Mason cited the statistics, and in this case, the statistics didn’t lie.
Create a lot of turnovers and you create a victory.
Takeaways by the Fulton defense set up the Steamers’ first four scores and a pick-six capped their 34-16 victory against Ottawa Marquette on Saturday in a first-round Illinois Class 1A football playoff game at Gould Stadium.
“Turnovers were huge,” said Mason, a senior starter at linebacker and center. “We always push that.
“Our defensive coordinator, Coach (Derek) Germann, has a really good stat. Once you have one more turnover than the other team, it’s an automatic 60 percent you win that game. Two, it goes up to like 80 (percent), and if you have three forced turnovers more than the other team, it’s like a 93 percent chance you win that game.”
The Steamers intercepted four passes — three by senior linebacker Tyler Bruggenwirth — and recovered a Marquette fumble. The final interception, which senior Andrew Knudsen returned 20 yards for a touchdown, pushed Fulton’s lead to 34-8 with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining.
“It’s one thing to get the turnovers, but to capitalize on them was even more special,” Fulton Coach Patrick Lower said.
Bruggenwirth started the string of takeaways after a scoreless first period on a chilly, windy and cloudy Saturday afternoon.
On second-and-12 from the Marquette 42, the Steamers pressured quarterback Logan Komater, and Bruggenwirth picked it off.
“That was more of help with the defensive line getting the pressure, but once I saw them almost tackle him I knew he was going to try to throw it up and I tried to make the play,” Bruggenwirth.
Moments later, Bruggenwirth did his part on the offensive end, leaping to haul in a Bryce Grant pass near the end zone and the diving across the goal line to complete the 37-yard touchdown play with 5:30 left in the second quarter. Bruggenwirth finished with three receptions — equaling the number of Marquette passes he caught — for 100 yards.
“That was great momentum for us,” Bruggenwirth said.
“Having him as a deep threat is just wonderful,” Grant said. “He’s 6-4 and not many corners can hang with him. It’s really just throw the ball to him and he goes up and makes the play.”
Bruggenwirth made another leaping grab a half-minute later, this time picking off another pass as Komater felt the heat from the defense.
“I just try to get to the outside and force the pocket and get a couple of good hits on the quarterback,” said junior Eli Pannell, who had several quarterback pressures.
Bruggenwirth’s short return set up the Steamers at the Marquette 26-yard line.
Fulton (7-3) needed just five plays — all of them featuring Austin Schroeder — to increase the lead to 14-0. Schroeder carried the ball in from the 7 for the scoring, diving across the goal line with 2:44 left in the half.
Schroeder finished the day with 84 yards rushing on 16 carries, but he was a threat coming out of the backfield, too, with a team-high eight catches for 89 yards.
“Coach Lower, and all the coaching staff, stayed up and saw they don’t cover the flats that well, so we figured we might as well attack it and see what happens,” Schroeder said.
“Either their linebacker was blitzing or they were dropping deep into a zone,” Grant said, “so we knew from film they were going to have the flats wide open. We took advantage of that.”
Not all the passes to Schroeder were in the flat, though. Six plays after Grant recovered a Marquette fumble at the Crusaders’ 47, he found Schroeder over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown pass that put the Steamers ahead 20-0 with 16.9 seconds left in the half.
“It’s always nice getting turnovers and then capitalizing on the turnovers,” Grant said. “We executed well, we had field position and our offensive line helped us out. They really got a push.”
Marquette had a little more success moving the ball in the second half but still committed costly turnovers. Bruggenwirth’s third interception, which came against Jack Snook, gave Fulton another short field after a 17-yard return. Schroeder completed a four-play, 23-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
The Crusaders (7-3) finally got on the scoreboard with 33 seconds left in the quarter when Komater completed a 5-yard pass to Snook on fourth-and-3. They added a meaningless score in the final seconds with backups on the field for both teams.
The Steamers added insult to injury on Knudsen’s 20-yard interception return with 2:21 left in the game as Snook was being buried near the end zone by a trio of Steamers.
The reward for the first-round win is a second-round home game against defending state champion Forreston.
“It feels great because we know we’ve got a crowd behind us and a whole community behind us, so it will be good,” Schroeder said.
“There’s nothing better than hosting a home playoff game,” Mason said. “That atmosphere is absolutely crazy.”
Lower said the start time would be decided today.