Belleville West, Althoff ready for 'center of attention' status

News-DemocratSeptember 5, 2013 

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Belleville West coach Cameron Pettus and Althoff coach Ken Turner each expressed sadness this week with their teams about to play the final game in a long-running city rivalry.

"It's a surreal feeling," Pettus said. "You don't have to motivate them at all this week but it's kind of sad because you know it's going to be the end of an era."

Turner agreed.

"I've been a part of a lot of them and this one seems to be the biggest one because of the situation," he said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere to play in and all the kids are fired up on both sides because they're part of history.

"They're the ones that are playing the last game, so it should be one big Friday night."

Althoff (1-0) has dropped five straight games to West (1-0), having not beaten the Maroons since former Crusaders coach Glenn Schott retired following the 2007 season.

Turner has never beaten the Maroons as a head coach and neither has Althoff quarterback Eric Mertens, a three-year starter.

"It would mean a lot to send it off on a good note," Mertens said. "Ever since I've been here, they've been pretty tough."

Pettus is unsure how the off-the-charts emotions, capacity crowd and intense atmosphere will impact the historic final game.

"We know that they're going to be sky high and they're excited to play," Pettus said of his players. "It's a big rivalry game and we just talked to them about watching your poise, keep your cool, don't get too excited and too crazy about it.

"It's going to be a packed house and something really special, that's for sure."

West senior running back and defensive back Brian Hill said it's been a crazy week.

"You can see it in the newspapers, you get text messages all the time, phone calls ... we've got family members that used to go to Althoff talking," Hill said. "It's a busy week. It's like a brother rivalry. We hear it from the students at the school a lot: We better win, we better win.

"I wish it was still going, even though it's my senior year. Both teams have great young players."

Turner played football at East St. Louis High and was part of the old city football rivalry there with East St. Louis Lincoln.

"Althoff-West is more competitive than the East Side-Lincoln rivalry was during the time I was there," Turner said. "But as far as the crowds, the whole city being involved, the bands, it's the same atmosphere."

Turner and Pettus both said they are proud to be part of the final game of the rivalry.

"It's pretty special when you can be a part of those things, because everybody loves them and everybody's coming out to watch," Turner said. "You're the center of attention that night, so it's cool for these kids to know that for one night, all of Belleville will be watching these kids. It's good for both teams."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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