Wesclin improved to 7-0 for the second time in program history Friday, but the Warriors didn’t exhale until Freeburg junior quarterback Cal Clossen was dropped for a loss on the final play of their 61-58 victory in a Cahokia Conference classic.
Wesclin coach Ric Johns, looking like he had just emerged from the county fair dunking booth, celebrated the win that moved the playoff-bound Warriors to 5-0 in the league. But Johns bemoaned his team’s defense that surrendered 454 yards to the Midgets (1-6, 0-5).
“Our defense set football back 30 years tonight,” Johns said. “We have really struggled defensively since the second half of the Salem game. We’ve got to find it. I don’t know if it’s me or what, but we’ve got to figure something out.
“As a head coach, my job is to see the big picture. Right now, the big picture is in peril. We’re certainly not playing playoff defense. I know what playoff defense looks like, and that wasn’t it.”
Freeburg also had difficulty on defense, yielding 541 yards to Wesclin. Still, the Midgets were in position to pull off a remarkable upset after senior Hayden Shea scored on a 40-yard run to put the Midgets on top 58-53 with 1:46 to play.
But it was plenty of time for Wesclin to mount another drive.
The Warriors got the ball on the Freeburg 41-yard line and needed just six plays to recapture the lead for good on senior quarterback Josh DeMage’s 13-yard pass to junior Brandt Goings with 12.7 seconds remaining.
Junior Gavin Bilbruck added the two-point conversion to put Wesclin ahead by three.
Freeburg, facing a stiff breeze out of the south, couldn’t advance the ball deep enough into Wesclin territory to attempt a potential game-tying field goal.
“We did everything we needed to do tonight,” Midgets coach Ronnie Stuart said. “But it was just they had one more play than what we did.”
Stuart said it was a matter of getting his roster healthy again.
“We knew coming into this week that nobody was giving us a chance to win this ballgame,” he said. “We’ve been battling the (flu) bug and have had three or four starters out for the past two or three weeks. They all finally got released, and we had a good week of practice. We came out here and believed we were still a good football team.”
Freeburg led 23-14 in the second quarter, but Wesclin sophomore Kaylee Thaler kicked a 31-yard field goal to close the first half and put the Warriors ahead 25-23.
The Warriors opened a 33-23 lead in the third quarter and led 46-37 early in the fourth quarter. Freeburg took a 52-26 lead on junior Zach Pluff’s 47-yard interception return, only to see Wesclin reclaim a 53-52 lead on senior R.J. Kattenbraker’s 30-yard touchdown run.
“You’ve got to give Freeburg credit,” Johns said. “They just fought and fought and fought, and kept coming back. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve won one game and you’re playing an undefeated team. Hats off to them.”
Bilbruck had 26 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns, while Kattenbraker had nine carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Shea had 28 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns for the Midgets, and also added an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“I can’t say enough about the kids,” Stuart said. “When you’re only winning one game right now throughout the season and you come out here and play a game like that, you can real quick lay down and die. Our kids didn’t. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm