Triad High football coach Paul Bassler had trouble Monday when asked to identify the last time the Knights had a game-winning touchdown pass.
Triad edged Mississippi Valley Conference rival Highland 20-19 Friday when Jason Barbour hit Clayton Monroe on a deep route for a 77-yard game-winner.
The Knights scored with 6 minutes 49 seconds remaining and then held on for the win.
"We've thrown TD passes in the last couple years, especially when everybody gets up tight on us, but I don't remember throwing one for the game-winner," said Bassler, whose team's option offense is so run-oriented that any more than six passes in a night normally constitutes an aerial attack. "We actually tried to run the play several times beforehand and we had people going wrong ways and other things. We waited a couple series and came back to it."
It was third-and-long for the Knights deep in their own end, not exactly the kind of situation Bassler or his team enjoys. But Bassler has confidence in a quarterback that typically spends much of his night handing the ball off or running it.
"We knew that he could throw, we had to have the confidence in him and take practice time and get him the reps,' Bassler said. "Our receivers go into the season calling themselves 'split-tackles' thinking they're never going to catch the ball."
The win pushed Triad to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in league play as the Knights handed Highland (5-2, 2-2) its second loss.
Through seven games, Barbour has thrown only 54 times and completed 24 for three TDs and two interceptions. Monroe leads all Triad receivers with six catches.
Seven Triad running backs have 10 or more carries led by Trevor Medved (841 yards, nine TDs).
After the touchdown pass, Bassler rolled the dice by running the same pass play again for a first down.
"I think our fans probably had a heart attack there when we three for a first down there late in the game," joked Bassler. "They couldn't believe I was putting the ball up that late with a one-point lead, but that's something we had to have."
It hasn't been a normal year for the Knights, who typically find themselves fending off challengers for another MVC title.
Now Jerseyville is unbeaten and Waterloo (5-2) has one conference loss, with Triad and Highland tied for third at 2-2.
A big problem for the Knights has been offensive line injuries. A starting tackle and starting guard were gone within the first few weeks and a replacement starter at tackle has been lost to injury as well.
"In my 15 years as head coach I've been very blessed," Bassler said. "We have not had the injuries we've sustained this year. Normally by Week 4 or Week 5 we're able to open up our playbook and do some things...this year we were back in our base offense trying to survive."
Bassler had been trying to avoid having starters playing offense and defense in the interest of conserving energy, but the injuries have changed that.
"We're back to the old days where you've got the best kids out on the field," he said.
Surging Cahokia spurred by defense
The defense being played by the Cahokia Comanches is so good these days that coach Antwyne Golliday has been able to rest injured star running back Shayeen Edwards.
After a 1-2 start, the Comanches (4-3) have roared back to life with wins in three of their last four games.
That stellar defense has allowed just eight points in the last three games, with two shutout wins sandwiched around an 8-0 loss to unbeaten and state-ranked South Seven Conference rival Centralia.
"The defense has been really rolling," said Golliday, whose team shut down Mount Vernon 29-0 on Friday and Carbondale 33-0 on Sept. 21.
The Comanches had six interceptions in a 28-14 road win over Marion on Sept. 14.
"My defense has been playing so well I've been resting some kids with some nagging injuries," said Golliday, whose team faces a South Seven showdown against Althoff on Friday. "With our defense, after they come off the field they try to pump the offense up. It's a team thing."
Among the defensive standouts for Cahokia are linebackers Jalen Thomas (51 tackles, one interception and Darnell Beverly (46 tackles, one interception) and defensive ends Kenny Knight, Jr. (34 tackles, five sacks) and Tim Nicholson (21 tackles, four sacks).
There's also defensive tackle Melvin Collins and defensive backs Demeko Stringfellow (four interceptions, three fumble recoveries) and MarkQuan Fridge (three interceptions).
Stepping up and filling roles has been part of the Comanches' rebirth. They lost their returning starter at quarterback to academic ineligibility, then were pummeled 42-8 in the season opener by O'Fallon.
"After that O'Fallon game we all sat down as a team and talked," Golliday said. "I called some kids out, I called some coaches out, we just had a pow-wow."
Golliday and his staff have emphasized defense and ball control with a new starter at quarterback in Darby Perry. A solid running game is headed by Edwards (766 yards, nine TDs) and Keenan Hogan (353 yards, two TDs).
In the last two weeks, Keveion Akins has gotten a lot of the touches at running back and responded with 94 yards against Mount Vernon and another 85 against Centralia.
"He got an opportunity and he made the best of it," Golliday said. "He really impressed me."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.