The Althoff Crusaders will conclude their regular season deep in the heart of Texas.
Fresh off a thrilling 21-20 win over Cahokia, the Crusaders (7-1) will leave late Wednesday for Houston where they will take on Houston Christian High School at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Crusaders, who clinched a tie with Centralia and Marion (all with 4-1 records) for the South Seven Conference championship, had difficulty finding a week nine opponent until coach Ken Turner went to work and landed a game with the Mustangs.
“We were not having any luck finding a week nine opponent for the season, so through searching the internet and help from other coaches, I was put in contact with coach Max Bowman from Houston Christian,” Turner said. “They had an open date and we talked about each others programs and decided it would be a good game for both programs.
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“It is a hassle when you are traveling 12 hours on a bus, but the kids are taking it all in and looking forward to playing a week nine opponent. It is different from our normal schedule that we have, but we believe we have everything scheduled right to be ready for a game Friday.”
Althoff Athletic Director Greg Leib said Monday that the trip is being paid for by the families of the players.
Bowman is a former head coach at Greenville College and also spent time as the tight ends coach with the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League. Houston Christian is 2-4 this season.
Now in his sixth season as the coach of the Mustangs, Bowman has a 25-24 record. Houston Christian was 5-4 a year ago.
The Mustangs’ top player is offensive/defensive lineman Donovan Jackson, who has scholarship offers from LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Wide receivers Jacob Lutey and Matt Strickland are also getting NCAA Division I looks.
Turner said fans should not be deceived by the Mustangs’ record.
“They are 2-4. But they look good on film and have faced some really good teams in their league so far,” Turner said. “Their record is not any indication of how good they can be. They are playing some young players this season, but very talented young players.”
Resilient Indians still alive
Minutes after watching his team lose to undefeated Wesclin three weeks ago, Carlyle coach Chris Birkner laid it on the line for the Indians.
“I told them that we needed to win the last three games to get in the playoffs. We wouldn’t have enough playoff points to get in. We needed to get to six wins for the season,” he said.
Two wins later —both of them on the road — the Indians still have playoff hopes heading into the final week of the season.
One week after losing starting quarterback Alex Huels to a shoulder injury in a 26-20 win at Salem, the Indians got a 150-yard rushing night from Landon Smith and a solid effort from its defense as it defeated Flora 14-7.
Now 5-3, Birkner’s Indians can clinch a playoff spot Friday when they travel to take on winless Pinckneyville (0-8).
“They are having a tough season,” Birkner said of the Panthers. “But we still have to be ready to play a solid football game. We knew what we had to do when we were 3-3 with three road games left. The kids have responded well. We lost Alex (Huels) in the Salem game but backup quarterback Caleb Darr has come in and done a good job and Landon Smith had a big night running the football.”
Red Bud bounces back
One week after a discouraging 50-0 loss at Portageville, Mo., the Red Bud Musketeers responded with one of their finest efforts of the season Friday when they needed it the most.
Senior quarterback Griffin Ziebold fired four touchdown passes in a nine-minute stretch in the second half to break open a close game. The Musketeers went on for a 41-21 win over Columbia.
The win moved coach David Lucht’s team to 5-3 and one win away from a playoff bid.
“We didn’t play well at Portageville,” Lucht said. “We had some costly turnovers and mistakes, plus they had two 6-foot-4 wide receivers who were the caliber of athletes we haven’t seen and usually don’t see during the regular season. We just told the kids that for us the playoffs were starting in week eight against Columbia. The kids responded very well.”
Red Bud plays host to Sparta (1-7) at 7 p.m. Friday. A win assures the Musketeers a playoff berth. The Illinois High School Association releases its playoff brackets in all eight classes Saturday.
On the Bubble
Carlyle and Red Bud are two of seven local teams heading into regular-season finales Friday with 5-3 or 4-4 records and needing a win to either clinch or improve their chances of earning playoff bids.
In the Cahokia Conference, Columbia is 5-3 and can clinch a playoff spot when it travels to Jerseyville (3-5). The Eagles have 37 playoff points. Central (4-4), which has lost four games in a row after a 4-0 start, has 41 playoff points. But the Cougars must win when they play host to Herrin (7-1) to qualify.
In the Southwestern Conference, Edwardsville, Belleville West and Alton are all 5-3. Alton (37 points) plays at East St. Louis (7-1), Edwardsville plays host to Collinsville (1-7) and Belleville West (5-3) travels across town to take on Belleville East (2-6).
Madison (5-3) has only 21 points, but the Trojans can clinch a playoff spot with a win at winless Dupo (0-8) on Friday.
Teams that have clinched playoff spots are: Wesclin (8-0), Highland (8-0), East St. Louis (7-1), Althoff (7-1), Triad (7-1), Marquette (7-1) and Wood River (6-2).