BELLEVILLE — Finding a way to hold onto leads is becoming a tough lesson for the Althoff Crusaders.
Demontez Miller-Gray ran for 201 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns in leading the Mount Vernon Rams past the Crusaders 42-32 Friday in a South Seven Conference game.
The Crusaders led 32-21 with 7:35 left in the fourth quarter. They led 25-14 late in the fourth quarter last week against Mascoutah, but lost 26-24.
"We're coming out in the second half and doing what we want to do, and we're taking big leads,'' Althoff coach Ken Turner said. "The last couple weeks, we've had problems holding on.
"That's a growing process that we are going through right now. We have to fix it, and we have to fix it quick.''
The Crusaders dropped to 1-3 overall, 0-1 in the South Seven.
"It's a little frustrating right now,'' Turner said. "I feel like the kids' effort is there, and I feel like two weeks in a row ... we easily could be 3-1, but we are 1-3. I just want to keep these guys up.
"I still feel like we are good football team. We just have to fight and keep trying to do those little things right.''
The Rams improved to 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the South Seven.
"I think it was huge that we got a road conference win, and we came back like we did,'' Rams coach Jared Shaner said. "We have to use this and draw on it and understand that good teams find a way to fight back when they don't play their best game. I felt like that's what we did tonight.''
Althoff quarterback Eric Mertens became the school's all-time passing leader and wide receiver Luke Frazier had a breakout performance with seven catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
Frazier also had a fumble recovery on defense.
"We talked to him all week about coming out and having a good game, and he had a great game,'' Turner said of Frazier. "I'm not shocked. He is a good football player. People try to double-team Keenen (Young) a lot and take him away from us, but we feel like we have a bunch a guys who do some things, like Luke.''
The Crusaders went up 32-21 on an 18-yard touchdown run by sophomore Malik Easley with 7:35 to go.
The Rams answered on their next play from scrimmage as Miller-Gary ran 63 yards for a touchdown.
A two-point conversion pass closed the gap to 32-29.
"We go the whole length of the field and punch it in, and they come back and hit us with one big play,'' Turner said. "They're capable of that. They've got a good running game.''
The Rams took a 35-32 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run by Miller-Gary with 1:03 left.
Mount Vernon's Jacob Williamson intercepted a pass that was tipped by teammate by Jacobee Marshall with 47 seconds remaining.
Miller-Gray broke loose for a 38-yard touchdown run to clinch the win with 34 seconds on the clock.
Both teams scored on their first three possessions of the game.
Dennis Jackson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and Mertens threw touchdown passes of 24 and 14 yards to Frazier.
An 18-yard touchdown pass from Mertens to Frazier on Althoff's first possession of the second half put the Crusaders up 25-21.
Mertens completed 17 of 26 for 222 yards. He entered the game needing only 62 yards to break Dale Fink's school record of exactly 5,000 passing yards.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.