BELLEVILLE — Back in 2002, Matt Lauber and Dan Fahrner were players on the Althoff High football team that lost at home to Pontiac in the Class 5A semifinals.
Ten years later as Althoff assistant coaches, both will get to realize their dream of reaching a state title game. Althoff's 28-7 victory over Camp Point Central-Southeastern on Saturday made it happen.
While celebrating with the Crusaders in the locker room, head coach Ken Turner brought Lauber up and gave him the game ball.
"It means the world 10 years later," said Lauber, Althoff's defensive coordinator. "It's great to give these kids an opportunity to go up there, something we failed to do 10 years ago. This is as exciting as can be. It's awesome."
Althoff's run-stuffing defense limited Central-Southeastern to 78 yards rushing before an estimated crowd of close to 4,000 at Lindenwood Stadium.
Coming into the game, the story line was about Camp Point's gaudy rushing totals vs. Althoff's strength of stopping the run.
The Althoff defense came out on top in this one.
"All week they've been saying they were going to run the ball and I've been waiting on this," said Althoff's 340-pound defensive tackle Merrick Jackson, a University of Illinois recruit. "For a team to tell us what they're going to do....that's all you can ask for."
Althoff middle linebacker Erik Furmanek said the Crusaders were eager to prove themselves worthy of a state title contender.
"It was great," he said. "We came out here and we wanted to redeem Coach Lauber's 2002 season -- and I think we did it just fine."
Lauber said the defensive game plan was to try to stop the run and force Central-Southeastern into throwing the ball --which it had done only 46 times all season.
Panthers quarterback Seth Leezer threw the ball 15 times and completed six passes for 86 yards.
"We told our kids all week be disciplined, play assignment football and do your job," Lauber said. "Our kids bought into it, played low and got off the football. We said if we win in the trenches, we're going to win the game."
Furmanek grew up hearing about the school's three state football championships, but the last one came way back in 1990.
On Friday, the Crusaders will have a shot at a fourth state title.
"This is a dream come true," Furmanek said. "Ever since I got to Althoff I've been wanting to get a ring and wanting to get a banner with our name on it. It's just unreal."
Althoff senior cornerback Michael Harris added two more interceptions Saturday, bringing his season total to a team-leading 10 picks.
"It's just unreal, I've been dreaming about this since I was 5 starting with Little Devils," Harris said, mentioning one of Belleville's two youth football programs. "We had a goal set at the beginning of the year. It's just unbelievable how we could come together and do this as a team. Just amazing."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.