BELLEVILLE — Althoff's last trip to the state football semifinals left the Crusaders seven yards short of a trip to the state finals.
An incomplete pass on fourth down finally sealed Althoff's 27-21 loss to Pontiac in the 2002 Class 5A semifinals. That game was played on the same site as the semifinal contest scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday when Althoff (9-3) takes on Camp Point Central-Southeastern in a 2A semifinal.
Althoff head coach Ken Turner was an assistant on that team and two of his assistant coaches -- Matt Lauber and Danny Fahrner -- both played in the game.
"We felt like we let some opportunities slip away in that Pontiac game, so going into this Saturday we do not want to let that happen," Turner said. "We want our best game to be this game on Saturday."
The 2002 playoffs offer a few more similarities to the 2012 Crusaders squad.
That year, Althoff reached the semifinals with a thrilling 35-31 comeback win over (Springfield) Sacred Heart-Griffin in a quarterfinal slugfest that became known as the "Holy War."
"Some people felt that might have been the best high school game they'd ever seen," said retired Althoff football coach Glenn Schott, who has been working as a color analyst on the live streaming telecasts during the playoffs.
Last week, Althoff came from behind to beat Casey-Westfield 19-17 in the quarterfinals when freshman Donovan Gagen's 40-yard field goal bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights with 0.4 seconds remaining.
That kept Althoff's bid for a fourth state football title alive.
"If you remember, we had a big win against Griffin and we were coming into that (semifinal) game with a lot of confidence and a big opportunity," said Turner, who watched the 2002 team fail to hold on to a 21-13 second-half lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Much has been made about Althoff being a 2A playoff qualifier, a hot topic among fans and on Internet message boards during each round of the postseason.
Since the Crusaders had not won a football playoff game since 2005, a recent change in the Illinois High School Association rules allowed them to avoid the 1.65 multiplier applied to the enrollments of other private schools.
As a result, Althoff's official school enrollment for the 2012 football season was 416 students, thus landing them in the 2A field.
The enrollments of Althoff's first four playoff opponents has been 403 (Camp Point Central-Southeastern), 374 (Athens), 343 (Chester) and 320 (Casey-Westfield). Only Du Quoin (418) had a higher enrollment in the 2A playoffs than Althoff.
A thread about the Althoff vs. Casey-Westfield quarterfinal game on IllinoisHighSchoolSports.com had nearly 22,000 views as of late Friday afternoon and was still growing.
"We didn't pick 2A, the IHSA picked it and we're just playing," Althoff senior linebacker Erik Furmanek said "We're just playing football."
* Furmanek has offers from Western Illinois and Southeast Missouri State, but are larger schools missing out on something?
He has a team-leading 146 tackles and also has four interceptions, rarely leaving the field.
"Our fans understand what he is and what he can do," Turner said. "To see him go sideline to sideline ... for a person who hasn't seen us play it may look pretty amazing. But we kind of expect it out of him -- and he expects it our of himself."
* This is Central-Southeastern's fifth straight playoff trip, but only its sixth overall. Camp Point defensive line coach Casey Monroe played for Mascoutah High and Illinois College.
"We graduated a great group of seniors last year that set a lot of records," said Camp Point coach Brad Dixon, whose team lost a second-round heartbreaker to Williamsville before setting a school record for wins this season. "Some people thought we'd be OK, but I don't think a lot of people outside of our immediate team thought that we could be this good this year."
* Althoff has won six straight games after a 3-3 start and hasn't lost since Sept. 28, a 28-18 defeat against South Seven Conference rival Marion.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.