It took them two six-hour round-trip bus rides to Normal and two overtimes, but the Belleville East Lancers managed to nail down their first victory under new coach Kris Stephens.
The Lancers watched a pair of 22-point leads evaporate in the second half Saturday, but kept pounding away and held on for a 55-48, double-OT victory over Normal West, the state’s sixth-ranked Class 6A team.
Lightning forced the game to be postponed Friday night almost as soon as it began, so the Lancers had to make a return trip to Normal on Saturday. The second ride home back down Interstate 55 was much sweeter after an emotional victory.
“It was a huge character builder — and character rebuilder,” was how Stephens assessed a win in a game that featured nearly 1,000 yards of combined offense. “Making that trip up there twice was tough, but; we came out of the gate on fire and I think their coach even commented about how we won the restart.
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“Their kids did a great job coming back in the second half. We kind of eased off the pedal a little bit but came through in the end.”
Normal West tied it with 2:47 remaining to force overtime. Both teams scored in the first OT, with East reaching the end zone on a 5-yard run by quarterback Drew Millas.
Millas struck again in the second overtime, tossing a 10-yard TD pass to Anthony Dean. A fourth-down pass interference call against the Lancers gave Normal West one more chance to force a third OT, but the Lancer defense held.
Millas was 26-of-47 passing for 281 yards and five TDs, including three TD passes to Isaiah King. East running back Moses Holman, stepping in for injured starter Damone Witherspoon (arm injury), also came up big with 127 yards on 20 carries.
King had 10 pass receptions for 115 yards while Quantavius Alexander had seven catches for 107 yards and a TD. Jewell Smith added two interceptions.
“Drew was everything we expected him to be coming into the season,” Stephens said of the Missouri State baseball recruit. “He got us moving and got us going, made a bunch of great reads with his feet and with his arm.”
The win did not come with a lot of concerns for Stephens, especially on the defensive side heading into the Southwestern Conference opener against 2-0 Granite City on Friday.
“It’ a great step, but we’re stepping into the Southwestern Conference,” Stephens said. “It’s good, but we can’t rest a minute because anybody can beat anybody in this league and Granite City’s rolling.”
Was Stephens excited about his first career coaching win?
“It’s got nothing to do with me,” he said. “It’s a great bunch of kids. I love working with them.”
Central slamming the door
Along with their 2-0 start, the Central Cougars outscored Mascoutah and Dupo by a combined 98-0.
The Cougars defense held Dupo to 24 yards of total offense Friday in a 59-0 Cahokia Conference win, including 18 yards rushing on 22 carries and only six yards passing. A solid defensive front is anchored by ends Brayden Watts and Brice Haselhorst and tackles Domonic Weary and Branden Hooker. Senior Tarik Tibbs has a team-high 17 tackles.
“We’ve done a really good job of playing real physical and putting in a lot of effort with our pursuit to the ball,” Central coach Brian Short said. “I knew with our front four we’d be pretty tough and they’ve been a key component in what we’re doing.”
Running backs Brent Timmons (236 yards, five TDs) and Collin Thomas (173 yards, two TDs) have carried the load for the Central offense thus far.
“We’ve been able to run the football pretty successfully,” Short said. “We knew that we’d be pretty big and strong up front and so far that’s held true.”
Next up for Central is a Cahokia Conference road game against Freeburg (1-1), which is coming off a conference loss to Carlyle.
100th win for Triad’s Bassler
Triad’s 21-20 win over host Collinsville on Friday gave coach Paul Bassler his 100th career victory.
Senior Adam Nelson’s 81-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter and junior Collin Black’s PAT lifted the Knights, who improved to 2-0.
“It just means I’m an old guy that’s been able to hang around long enough to reach 100,” Bassler said. “I hope I have a dozen or so seasons left and that we can stay competitive throughout that time. The 100 (wins) will come and go, so I hope we can keep improving and have a special season for these seniors. That’s what this is all about: the players and their memories of high school football. I’m just so blessed to be a part of it.”
It was the second straight game of at least 200 yards rushing for Nelson, the metro-east rushing leader with 434 yards on just 35 carries, a 12.4-yard average. He also has seven TDs.
Bassler, an Althoff High graduate, took over for Ed Cange in 1998 and has led the Knights to 11 postseason appearances, including eight in a row from 2004-11.
Mater Dei falls just short
Taking on the state’s second-ranked 3A team on the road, Mater Dei (1-1) nearly delivered an impressive road win Friday . But Williamsville got a touchdown and the eventual game-winning extra point with 4 minutes, 9 seconds remaining to deliver its 43rd consecutive regular season win, 35-34.
Mater Dei cut the lead to 35-34 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining on a 32-yard TD run by Josh Haberer. The Knights faked the extra-point kick and a pass from Collin Schuetz was incomplete.
The Knights drove to the Williamsville 10-yard line in the closing seconds, but were unable to dent the end zone despite recovering a fumble on an interception that gave them new life.
Mater Dei got a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter by Butchie Timmermann and also had a 47-yard TD run by Dawson Ratermann.
Next up for the Knights is the second annual “Holy Grail” rivalry game against Althoff, with the winner getting the trophy. Althoff won the first installment of the rivalry 22-12 last season, although the teams had faced each other several times previously.
Game time is 7 p.m. at Lindenwood University in Belleville.
News-Democrat Large-School (5A-8A) Football Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses.
Large school rankings (Class 5A-8A)
East St. Louis (3)
Also receiving votes: Belleville West (0-2), Granite City (2-0), O’Fallon (0-2), Alton (0-2), Collinsville (0-2)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Nashville (2-0), Wesclin (2-0), Carlyle (1-1), Freeburg (1-1)