Wesclin quarterback Josh DeMage connected with Brandt Goings on a 26-yard scoring pass with 3:34 remaining to lift the Warriors past Carlyle and into the playoffs.
Wesclin defeated Carlyle 44-38 in a Cahokia Conference game Friday.
Along with Alton Marquette and Highland, the Bulldogs were one of just three undefeated metro-east teams entering play Friday.
Wesclin (6-0, 4-0) trailed the Indians (3-3, 1-3) with just over six minutes left following a 45-yard scoring pass from Indians quarterback Ales Huels to senior Tyler Siever.
But, with DeMage directing the offense, Wesclin marched 63 yards in just under three minutes to take the lead. After faking a handoff, he lofted a pass over the outstretched arms of a defender to Goings, who tumbled into the end zone.
Carlyle, which received a 180-yard performance from junior running back Landon Smith, moved the ball near midfield. But when linebacker Gavin Bilbruck sacked Huels on a fourth-down attempt with under a minute left, the Warriors had the required six wins needed to earn a second playoff bid in three years.
“We were probably outplayed and outcoached tonight, but to be in the playoffs after playing just six games, that’s pretty good,” Wesclin coach Ric Johns said. “This is a group which has been together, and they are pretty resilient. We didn’t execute the way we have, but we got the job done.”
Carlyle, which began the season 3-0 only to drop its last three games, gave Wesclin all it wanted before a large senior night crowd.
With Nick Becker scoring on runs of 3 and 6 yards and junior Dale Allen blocking a punt, then falling on it in the end zone, Carlyle built a 26-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
But a 24-yard connection from DeMage to Goings right before the end of the first half got Wesclin within 26-21.
Bilbruck scored on a 10-yard run nearly in the third quarter to give Wesclin its first lead of the night at 28-26.
“I think the fact that we had been behind before like in the Columbia game a couple of weeks ago gave us the confidence to know that we came come from behind on the road,” DeMage said. “I have a lot of confidence in my teammates that we can overcome anything, and once again tonight we did that.
“I was on the playoff team two years ago when we qualified. I didn’t play much but I remember. It’s good to be going back.”
The second half was a see-saw battle.
DeMage had given Wesclin a 36-32 lead with 8:16 before Huels gave the Indians their final lead with his 45-yard strike to Siever. But as it did in a loss a week ago to Columbia, poor execution and turnovers proved to be the difference for the Indians.
“I thought we had a good game plan, and we really moved the football well all night,” Carlyle coach Chris Birkner said. “If we just execute and convert on our two-point conversions, we win the game. Plus the turnovers really hurt us again. We had nine last week and three more tonight.
“It’s plain what what we need to do. We are 3-3 with three games left, all on the road. We need to win all three because if we win five, I don’t think we’ll have enough points to get in the playoffs. The kids know what we have to do.”