BELLEVILLE — Althoff freshman kicker Donovan Gagen had enough leg and the wind at his back -- but still needed a little help from a friendly crossbar.
Gagen's 40-yard field goal try struck the crossbar and bounced through with 0.4 seconds remaining Saturday, lifting Althoff to a 19-17 victory over Casey-Westfield and a spot in the Class 2A semifinals next weekend.
"I thought it was going to bounce back," said Gagen, who was mobbed by his teammates and fans that poured onto the field after the win. "It's hard being a freshman and having a big crowd boo you. But having a good team give you confidence and boost your spirits up."
Althoff (9-3) plays Camp Point Central (12-0), a 35-28 winner over Du Quoin on Saturday, in the semifinals.
Following a 21-yard field goal by Casey's Jesse Burnett that left them trailing 17-16, the Crusaders took over at their own 34 with 58.6 seconds remaining.
Althoff quarterback Eric Mertens completed four straight passes to get the ball to the Casey 23 with 6.4 seconds to play, leaving the game squarely on the leg of Gagen.
"We just knew we had about a minute left and if we went down and executed we'd give our kicker a chance," said Mertens,. "He's amazing. It doesn't get much better than this."
Gagen's high kick started to lose altitude in the end zone, then struck the crossbar before bouncing through and setting off a wild celebration.
"We played a great team," said Casey coach Jim Sullivan , whose 11-1 team finished second in 2A last season. "We played above our heads probably most of the night. These guys are good, they've got some Division I prospects and a couple guys getting scholarships. We were right there, just missed it. What can you say."
Althoff's leading scorer in soccer, Gagen is new to football.
"I just started kicking this past summer and they didn't have a kicker," he said, "so I decided I'd go out every week and kick a few balls every week with my dad to try to get better and better. I guess it's stating to pay off tonight."
There were still 0.4 seconds remaining and Casey's Ajaye Meeks was finally hauled down in Althoff territory on the kickoff to end the game.
Like everyone else at Lindenwood Stadium, Althoff coach Ken Turner's eyes were on the flight of the ball after it left Gagen's foot.
"I knew he had the leg and he had the wind, I was just hoping he had the direction," Turner said. "He does this every day in practice. Its awesome. These kids worked hard to get this victory."
With 6:48 remaining and a chance to run time off the clock, the Crusaders were forced to punt. After a low snap, the punt by Althoff's Jeremy Miller was blocked and Casey took over at the Crusaders' 20-yard line.
That led to Burnett's short field goal.
An interception by Althoff linebacker Erik Furmanek led to the tying touchdown by the Crusaders late in the third quarter.
The second of two long runs by Garland Henley, a 24-yarder with the second dancing through traffic, got Althoff into the end zone with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Gagen's extra point tied it 14-14.
Althoff took the lead on a safety when a high punt snap by Casey, which was punting on its own 29-yard line, sailed over the head of punter Zack Murphy and rolled through the back of the end zone.
Althoff's Dennis Jackson had 109 yards on 24 carries.
Althoff's inability to locate the ballcarrier in the first half led to two long touchdown runs for Casey.
After a Jackson fumble was recovered by Casey's Shawn McCown at the Althoff 37 on the opening drive, Dalton Livvix put the Warriors on top.
Livvix scored on 28-yard run up the middle and the Warriors led 7-0.
Althoff answered with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by a 1-yard run by 340-pound lineman Merrick Jackson. It was the first career carry and second career TD for Jackson, who returned an interception for a touchdown earlier this season.
The game did not stay tied for long as Casey quarterback Nicco Stepina faked a handoff on the option and blazed a 71-yard touchdown trail down the right side.
Jesse Burnett's extra point gave the Warriors a 14-7 lead.
The Crusaders were headed for the end zone again late in the first half, but the drive stalled on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 at the Casey 10-yard line.
Casey had the two long TD runs in the first half, but didn't get a first down until just before halftime when the Warriors picked up three on the same drive.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.