BELLEVILLE — On a day of firsts, the biggest one that mattered to the Lindenwood-Belleville Lynx could be seen plainly on the large new scoreboard behind their bench.
The Lynx celebrated the first college football game in school history Saturday by delivering a 43-37 victory over Avila on Saturday.
A large crowd braved the rainy weather, filling the big stands on the north side of the field. There were plenty more in the end zone seats, including a loud, dedicated student section paired up with a small, but persistent school band.
"We've been here for five weeks, four of those in double sessions," LU-B coach Jeff Fisher said. "These kids have really worked hard. They studied, studied, studied and today was their test. It was really neat to be a part of it."
LU-B quarterback Kerry Gibson tossed two touchdown passes in a wild offensive shootout that saw the teams trade leads and big plays all day.
One of those was an 85-yard kickoff return by Lynx defensive back Derrick Henry.
Lynx receiver Harvey Binford, who caught the first touchdown in school history, added four catches for 122 yards. Running back Dominick Sherman piled up 92 yards on 17 carries.
As they gathered in their locker room in a wild victory celebration, players who barely knew each other a few months ago forged an emotional bond they won't soon forget.
"What you have is a unique group," Fisher said. "You have the kids that we recruited and you have the kids that recruited us. The way that these guys have meshed together has just been tremendous."
Former Althoff High School running back Kameron Harris spoke about his new teammates.
"We're a family now," said Harris, who had a TD run Saturday. "I'm playing on the same team as kids from West and East, my rivals in high school. We're a family now and it's exciting. I'm ecstatic about it."
The first touchdown in Lindenwood-Belleville history was scored by Binford, who attended East St. Louis Charter School but never played high school football.
Gibson, the quarterback that finished off the victory, is a former Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit who left SIUC and transferred to LU-B last year.
This is the same Gibson who led Hazelwood Central, in Florissant, Mo., to a pair of state championships and a 25-3 record as a junior and senior.
"That was quite a game, the first-time ever and the first season," Gibson said. "This is a great opportunity for everybody, to be the pioneers of this. ... I'm speechless.
"I feel really good that we did win, but if we would have lost it still was a great game. I'm very proud of my team and my coaches."
In typical first-game fashion, LU-B was trying to punch the ball into the end zone and run out the clock with a 6-point lead when it lost a fumble on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 31.9 seconds remaining.
The defense responded as an interception by former Triad standout Kristian Moon, which closed out the game.
"We have good kids," Fisher said. "I know they're not going to say this is the best we're going to be. We're going to keep working and we're going to improve."
The first touchdown in school history came on a fourth-and-6 play with 2:57 remaining in the second quarter.
LU-B quarterback Trey Phipps lofted the ball high into the right corner of the end zone for Binford, who hauled it in under pressure. Zach Morris added the extra point.
A safety gave LU-B a 9-0 lead, but Avila's Cornell Ellis picked up a fumble by Phipps and rambled into the end zone.
Momentum swung back to the Lynx quickly when Henry ran 85 yards with the ensuing kickoff return for another touchdown.
A 16-6 lead didn't last long as Avila scored on an 80-yard kick return after Da'Veion Sullivan handed off to Robert Johnson on a reverse play.
Avila took a 20-16 lead on a 32-yard TD run by Harley Kreisman, but the Lynx answered again. Gibson, who replaced Phipps at quarterback for the Lynx, tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams.
The offensive shootout continued as Avila got another touchdown on a 41-yard run by quarterback Dominic Carmazzi with 2:38 remaining in the half.
Gibson went to work and quickly helped put LU-B back on top, firing a 47-yard pass to Binford. That set up a 1-yard TD run by Sherman as the Lynx led 29-27.
Kreisman had 74 yards rushing and two TD runs for Avila, an NAIA school from Kansas City, Mo., that was 4-7 last season.
Last year there was no football program at Lindenwood-Belleville, a growing university located on the former Belleville West campus.
A year later, the Lynx football program is 1-0. Fans came out wearing maroon LU-B T-shirts and hats, the mascot -- Larry the Lynx -- prowled the sidelines and a raucous student section filled the air with noise.
"This is the beginning, that's all it is," Fisher said. "We are a work in progress. It's just one 'W,' hopefully we get a lot more of them."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.