For the second straight year the Belleville West Maroons entered their annual battle with East St. Louis on Saturday as heavy underdogs and with the knowledge that not many outside of west Belleville gave them much of a chance to win the football game.
And for the second straight year, the Maroons simply shocked the Southwestern Conference and the metro-east.
Linebacker Kenneth Dixon and defensive back Jack Lanxon returned interceptions for touchdowns and Jarell Anderson scored twice as Belleville West thrilled a large home crowd with a stunning 35-26 win over the Flyers in a Southwestern Conference game.
In winning its third straight game after an 0-2 start, West got a brilliant day from its defense led by seniors Nick Foster and DeMarlo Nesbitt as it took the lead in the second quarter. But it wasn’t until Lanxon’s 50-yard interception return with under three minutes remaining gave the Maroons a 35-20 lead and the thought of a second straight win over their long time rival started to become a reality.
“To hear the sound of the victory bell is great,” a beaming Maroons coach Cameron Pettus said. “I’m just so proud of this football team. Why does this mean so much? It’s East St. Louis and they have a great football program. The kids and coaching staff works hard and to be able to beat this football team, it means a lot to the kids, the school and the communty.”
Belleville West, which defeated the Flyers 29-28 a year ago, trailed 8-0 following a 68-yard scoring pass from Reyondus Estes to all-state wide receiver Jeff Thomas. But the Maroons got even early in the second quarter when Maroons linebacker Nick Foster hit Estes as he was releasing the ball. Dixon made the interception and ran 74 yards for the tying score.
West (3-2, 3-0) would never trail again.
After a Flyers turnover — one of five they would commit — Anderson scored on a 36-yard run then put the finishing touch on the Maroons 22-point second quarter when he scored on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Logan Betz to give West a 22-14 lead at halftime.
The coaches really worked us hard this week for East St. Louis.
Belleville West linebacker Nick Foster
The turning point
Entering the game ranked fourth in the Class 7A poll, East St. Louis (3-2, 2-1) cut the Maroons lead to 15-14 on a 65-yard kickoff return by Malcolm Bell with eight minutes left in the second quarter.
With under three minutes left in the first half buried inside its own 30-yard line, West appeared content to run out the clock. But when East St. Louis, hoping to get another possession, called timeout, West got its offense rolling. Keyed b y a pair of big receptions by TeAntez Anthony and a defensive holding call on the Flyers, West marched down the field.
Finally, with 17.3 seconds remaining, Betz found Anderson for the score and a 22-14 lead.
Foster keys West defense
One of the Maroons top defensive players, Foster led a West squad which twice stopped the Flyers inside the 15-yard line and gave both Estes and leading East St. Louis running back Kerrion Chairs fits all day.
Put simply, Foster was all over the field.
“Nick was all over the field today,” Pettus said. “And what’s more is that because he was all over the field, they (East St. Louis) was trying to double team him and that opened things up for other players such as (DeMarlo) Nesbitt.
“Our defense was great all day. (Defensive Coordinator) Brian Capell is one of the best around and he had the kids flying. The offense made the plays when they needed too and we need to work on special teams a little bit more. But it was a great team effort.”
Foster, also one of the top Class 3A wrestlers in the state, said he and his teammates were fired up.
“The coaches really worked us hard this week for East St. Louis,” Foster said. “We were ready and we responded well. I had a good game, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. It was a team effort.”
East St. Louis, which also a 60-yard scoring reception from Thomas and a 1-yard run late from Estes, were unofficially whistled for 23 penalties to go along with its five turnovers. Included among those calls were at least six major infractions (15-yard penalties). An illegal bock call nullifed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Grissom which would have brought the Flyers to with 28-26 midway in the fourth quarter.
“We just made too many turnovers and had way to many penalties,” a dejected Thomas said as he walked off the field. “We’ve just got to get ready for Edwardsvile next week.”
East St. Louis will host Edwardsville on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. Belleville West will play at Belleville East on Oct. 3 at 1 p.m.