Amari Watkins stood in the backfield waiting to slam into the Glenbard East defense.

Then, the Marist senior running back saw the defense at the line of scrimmage preparing to blitz—Watkins couldn’t help but smile.

Racing untouched for 53 yards and a touchdown up the middle on the RedHawks’ first play from scrimmage, Marist went on to dominate host Glenbard East 49-7 on Nov. 1 in a Class 8A first-round playoff game.

“Before the play, I was looking at the linebacker and saw he was trying to blitz,” Watkins said. “I thought ‘Oh, yeah, this is perfect.’ As soon as Hayden Mikesell called the play, I got the ball, saw the hole wide open and ran straight through it. Next thing you know, I’m dancing in the end zone with my teammates.”

It was just the start of a monster day for Watkins (Beverly, Vanderpoel) on the ground as the senior piled up 180 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 13 carries.

Marist (6-4), a 23 seed, will host Huntley (9-1) on Nov. 9, at 1 p.m., in a second-round game. Huntley defeated Taft 48-6 in the first round.

With his big day against the Rams, Watkins surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.

Marist Coach Ron Dawczak said having a weapon like Watkins in the backfield is the key to a deadly offense.

“Amari’s been a workhorse for us,” Dawczak said. “He’s shown patience and the ability to run with power. Our offensive line has been able to open up some big holes, and he’s run hard. He’s been a huge boost to our offense.”

Watkins added a second score early in the second quarter, a 1-yard plunge on a fourth-down play that put the RedHawks up 28-0 on the way to a 42-0 halftime lead.

For Watkins, it’s been a great season, but he’s using some extra motivation after the death of his grandmother in late July.

“My grandma wouldn’t have wanted me to quit. She put me in football,” Watkins said. “I always play for her. I know she’s looking down on me. She was my best friend. She took care of me my whole life.”

The RedHawks rushed for 389 yards in the first half behind the offensive line of Tom Kapa (St. Christina), Chris Vitek, Sean Quarterman (Christ the King), Ryan Meehan and Pat Coogan.

Hayden Mikesell, a senior QB, scored on a 46-yard rushing TD and also threw for 2 TD, finding Carnell Tate (12 yards) and A.J. Markett (20 yards).

“We’ve got to thank the O-line for a dominant game,” Mikesell said. “They dominated versus Loyola, and we’re trying to keep that train moving. It starts up front with the offensive line.”

Mikesell and sophomore Dontrell Jackson have split time at QB this season. Whoever is under center, Mikesell said he just wants to pile up playoff wins.

“I listen to the coaches and go with the flow,” Mikesell said. “Whatever I can do to help the team, whoever it is, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to get the win.”

Marist clinched its playoff berth with an exciting Week-9 victory at Loyola Academy. The RedHawks accumulated an astounding 56 playoff points while competing in the state’s toughest schedule.

“For someone to look at us just as a 5-4 team, we’re playing some of the best teams in the state. We were competing really well,” Dawczak said. “We’re a talented football team. We were in every single game.”