Belleville West converted many key plays Saturday.
But two the Maroons didn’t make proved costly in their 35-21 loss to Timber Creek Regional, of Erial, N.J., in the Gateway Scholars Football Classic at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
Particularly damaging was an 82-yard kickoff return by Chargers senior Michael Johnson that knotted the game at 21 with 9:28 to play in the third quarter.
Johnson’s endzone sprint came a mere 13 seconds after West (1-1) had taken its first lead of the game at 21-14 on senior Kriston Davis’ 37-yard touchdown run at the 9:41 mark.
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“Special teams, we’ve got to get (better),” said Maroons coach Cameron Pettus, whose team permitted a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in its season-opening 48-24 victory at Quincy on Aug. 25. “This is another kickoff return for a touchdown. We’ve got to get that squared away this week, which we will.”
Timber Creek (1-0) used Johnson’s touchdown to seize the initiative. Senior quarterback Devin Leary, a North Carolina State recruit, threw touchdown passes of 32 yards to sophomore Tarheeb Still with 2:23 to play in the third quarter and 8 yards to senior Kyle Dobbins with 1:42 remaining, cementing the victory.
“You grab the momentum like that against a team like that and then, boom, we give it up,” Pettus bemoaned. “That’s something we’ll get taken care of, obviously. Absolutely, that was a big, huge momentum swing.”
Pettus said it appeared the Maroons “didn’t get a good squeeze from the right side down.”
“It looked like they got a pretty good double-team on one of our guys and that’s where (Johnson) hit it up inside,” he said. “That’s how the game goes. People step up and make big plays on offense, defense and special teams, and they did it there.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Leary also had a 63-yard TD pass to junior Jayvin Little in the second quarter and Dobbins, who is verbally committed to Temple, contributed a 6-yard TD run in the first quarter. Leary passed for 264 yards.
Davis was sensational for the Maroons, with 36 carries for 222 yards and three TDs. But if there was one play Davis wishes he had back, it was with 8:38 left in the fourth quarter when the Chargers stopped him or no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from Timber Creek’s 14.
The Chargers, who led just 28-21 at that juncture, took over on downs and chewed up eight minutes on an 86-yard drive that culminated with Leary’s 8-yard scoring pass to Dobbins.
Davis, who also had TD runs of 45 yards and 30 yards, was upbeat after the game.
“This was a great team we played. We competed,” Davis said. “I love my guys. They played their hearts out. We made some mental mistakes and got beat on a couple of plays. That was the game.”
Davis has 436 yards and nine touchdowns in two games.
“I thank my O-line,” he said. “They’re my guys; they’re my brothers. They die for me every play. They played their heart out. That’s where it’s coming from, all those yards.
“If you could go back and see us in July and see how we’ve progressed to now ... I just love my team. We work hard; I work hard. We just have to be more disciplined.”