While Belleville West quarterback Sherand Boyd proved slippery all evening, Normal West defensive lineman Drake Bertrand's grip was airtight when it counted.
Bertrand hauled Boyd down for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-10 from the Wildcats' 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter to preserve Normal West's 30-23 season-opening victory over the Maroons, the No. 8-ranked team in Class 7A.
After TeAntez Anthony returned a kickoff 51 yards to the Normal West 35-yard line, the Maroons drove inside the Wildcats' 20.
A dropped pass on third down led to Bertrand's key tackle when Boyd tried to run up the middle under a heavy rush.
''That last goalline stand was huge for us,'' Normal West coach Darren Hess said. ''We've got a lot of young guys. I just loved how our kids fought that entire game.''
Belleville West kicker Austin Seibert brought the Maroons within 27-23 on a 40-yard field goal with 6:28 to play. On a drive keyed by the running of Dave Watson, the Wildcats countered with a 38-yard Tim O'Brien field goal with three minutes showing.
After turning Belleville West over on downs, Normal West ran off the final two minutes with the help of a Watson rushing first down.
''It was a tough game,'' Maroons coach Cameron Pettus said. ''They came out on top. They were the better team tonight. We just shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. When you're playing a good team, you've got to play good football.''
Normal West opening the scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Arion Worthman to Jack Coakley. Belleville West matched that with a 16-yard scoring run by Antoine Davis.
Watson, who finished with 118 yards on 18 carries, bulled over for a 1-yard touchdown after Mitch Fairfield had found Dante Ruffin with a 22-yard completion down to the 1. The extra point was blocked and the Wildcats led 13-7.
A 29-yard field goal from Seibert, an Oklahoma recruit with a massively powerful leg, cut the Normal West lead to 13-10. Ruffin outleaped a Maroons' defender for a 31-yard TD pass from Worthman with 3:59 left in the first half for a 20-10 Wildcats' margin.
''Dave Watson really played well, and Dante Ruffin had some great catches for us,'' Hess said. ''Arion and Mitch both played really good games. We had a lot of mistakes, but we'll build from it.''
Seibert boomed a 50-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar by at least 10 yards to start the second-half scoring. Normal West seized a 27-13 lead when Worthman took a direct snap up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown plunge.
A 43-yard Anthony kickoff return set up a 23-yard touchdown jaunt by Davis that sliced the Wildcats' lead to 27-20 at the 4:10 mark of the third quarter.
Worthman, a transfer from University High, alternated at quarterback with Fairfield. Worthman completed 9 of 19 passes for 125 yards and one interception, while Fairfield was 5 of 7 for 81 yards.
Davis paced the Maroons with 128 yards rushing on 19 carries, while Boyd netted 112 yards on the ground on 25 attempts.