The scoreboard resembled a pinball machine and the stat sheets had been filled to near capacity Saturday as the Belleville East and Normal West high school football teams brought high-octane offenses into double overtime.
When the 95th pass of the contest left the hand of Wildcats quarterback Mitch Fairfield and fell to the turf more than 27 hours after the opening kickoff, the Lancers erupted in celebration of a 55-48 nonconference victory.
"We had a game a few years ago that came down to a two-point conversion in overtime," said Kris Stephens, Belleville East's first-year coach. "But this was a different level. This was incredible. We got 100 up there, that's crazy."
The Lancers (1-1) led 21-6 at halftime and had a 22-point advantage on two occasions in the third quarter. But Fairfield and the Wildcats (1-1) refused to go away, pulling even at 41-41 on Josh Gaddis' 15-yard touchdown catch with 2:47 left in regulation.
"I think we came out flat tonight and I felt like Belleville East had a bit more purpose than we did," said Wildcats coach Darren Hess. "At halftime, we asked a question: 'Are we going to rally or are we going to let them do what they want to do?'
"This team came together. We can use this for confidence; so many great things were accomplished to get back into this game and tie it up against a great football team."
Fairfield hit Gattis again from 11 yards on the Wildcats' first OT possession. East quarterback Drew Millas answered with a 5-yard dash to force a second extra session.
Millas threw a 10-yard score to Anthony Dean to give the Lancers the advantage. Fairfield's first fourth-down try drew a pass interference penalty, but his second chance also hit the ground and ended the game.
"The team showed a great, great deal of resilience in sticking together and not giving up," said Stephens. "Our offense kind of stuttered in the third quarter and our defense had a hard time getting off the field. We found it in the fourth quarter, just in time."
Lightning suspended the game Friday barely over a minute into a scoreless contest. When things resumed Saturday, neither offense showed any inkling of the shootout that was to come.
The teams combined for 984 yards of total offense, with 661 coming through the air. Millas completed 26 of 47 passes for 281 yards with five TDs, while Fairfield totaled 380 yards on 23-of-48 passing and five TDs of his own.
"Do I want to give up less points? Heck yeah, that's the ultimate goal," said Hess. "I think all the mistakes were making are fixable. But nobody likes to give up 55 points. We've just got to keep working."
On the Lancers' second series of the night, Millas engineered a 14-play drive capped by a 5-yard run by Moses Holman, who amassed 127 yards on 20 attempts. Millas hit King with two TD passes in the second quarter and the lead swelled to 28-6 on a 27-yard run by Freddie Waller on the first series after halftime.
West sandwiched a 30-yard David Watson TD run and a 10-yard toss to Dante Ruffin around Millas' 19-yarder to Quantavius Alexander. Fairfield then hit Ruffin again from 10 and delivered a big play with a 60-yard toss to tight end Mace Julian to make it 35-27.
Millas connected with King again before a Jordan Simon run brought West back within a TD. After Gattis scored to tie the game, the Wildcats recovered when the Lancers fumbled the kickoff. But West couldn't advance and missed a 36-yard field goal.
"That was frightening," said Stephens. "The defense really came up huge right there to force that field goal. You can never count on a missed field goal; you just hope you can get it to that point."
King caught 10 passes for 115 yards with three TDs and was complemented by Alexander's 103 yards on seven grabs. The Wildcats were led by Ruffin's 172 receiving yards on eight catches and Watson's 119 yards rushing on 15 carries.
"I think we just need to believe in ourselves. We need to come ready, focused and come out of the gate like we did in this second half," said Hess. "Our seniors set the example and everybody followed in the second half. When you see glimpses of it you know you can do it more often."