BELLEVILLE — With a bit of a chip on their shoulders, the Althoff Crusaders simply took out three weeks of frustration on the Centralia Orphans on Friday at Lindenwood Stadium.
Senior quarterback Eric Mertens threw touchdown passes to four different receivers and the Crusaders dominated from start to finish in a 58-7 South Seven Conference rout of the previously undefeated Orphans.
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, including back-to-back losses to Mascoutah and Mount Vernon in which they lost leads in the final three minutes, the Crusaders (2-3, 1-1) took no chances on this night.
Junior defensive lineman Maurice Williams returned a blocked punt 15 yards for a score and Malik Easley added a 9-yard scoring run -- in the first 2:41 of the first quarter -- and the Crusaders never looked back.
"After letting teams come back on us the last two weeks, we wanted to step on someone early. The kids were focused all week and they felt they would win this football game,'' Crusaders coach Ken Turner said. "I felt like this team was ready to explode. I just didn't know when. We played and executed in all three phases of the game tonight. I'm very proud of these kids."
Centralia (4-1, 1-1) bounced back to cut the Crusaders' lead to 14-7 on a 5-yard run by sophomore quarterback Brodric Green late in the first quarter, but that was as close as the Orphans would get the rest of the night.
On the Orphans next possession, Green was sacked in the end zone by Crusaders linebacker Brett Silvestri for a safety to make it 16-7.
Easley then returned the ensuing free kick to the Orphans 20.
Three plays later, Mertens tossed his first scoring pass of the night -- a 9-yard throw to Dennis Jackson -- and with 10:48 left in the first half, Althoff led 23-7.
Things went from bad to worse for the Orphans when junior running back Matese Scott suffered a leg injury early in the second quarter and did no return. Scott entered play Friday with 700 yards rushing and had 95 in less than a half against Althoff.
"What it comes down to is that from the time we got off the bus tonight, we just weren't ready to play. As the head football coach, that's on me,'' Kauling said. "We didn't come ready to play in any of the three phases of the game tonight."
The only negative of the night for Althoff came with just over five minutes left in the first half when senior Luke Frazier suffered an ankle injury after catching a pass and was taken off the field on a stretcher.
"Luke is one of our captains and entered the game tonight as our leading receiver,'' Turner said. "I just pray he's all right and will be able to come back."
Mertens, who finished 14 of 17 for 174 yards, fired scoring passes of 38 yards to Keenen Young and 39 yards to Austin Mueller in the final five minutes of the first half to put Althoff up 37-7.
"We thought coming into the game tonight, that we would need 40 points tonight to win. We were trying to let everyone score tonight and we almost did,'' Turner said. "We just wanted to come into the game and play hard every snap. We thought if we did that, the rest would care of itself.''
Mertens fired a 21-yard scoring strike to Silvestri on the Crusaders' first possession of the second half.