Mark Lanxon started at quarterback for three years on some solid Belleville West football teams that won 22 of 29 games — and never beat East St. Louis once.
On Saturday, Lanxon’s son Jack Lanxon helped push the West winning streak over the Flyers to two in a row as he and Ken Dixon each returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 35-26 Southwestern Conference win.
“They’re a great team and a great program with a lot of success in the past,” said Jack Lanxon, a junior safety. “To do something that (my dad) had never done means a lot to me, a lot more than most people think.”
Mark Lanxon, West’s starting quarterback from 1982 to 1984, enjoyed the Maroons’ victory over the state’s fourth-ranked Class 7A team as much as his son did.
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“My junior year we lost to them by two points and that was our best shot,” Mark Lanxon said. “I remember watching last year’s game and was so excited like a lot of the West fans were. We were down 21-0 last year and it was like ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ We won and it was just amazing; this was another big win.”’
Belleville West has been playing East St. Louis in football since 1916 and has enjoyed only four two-game winning streaks in 99 years. Until Saturday, they hadn’t beaten the Flyers twice in a row since 1980 (14-13) and 1981 (21-0). The only other two-game streaks were in 1975-76, 1962-63 and 1946-47.
East St. Louis —which owns more victories than any school in state history — shut out Belleville West 23 times in 33 games from 1916 to 1948.
4The number of two-game winning streaks by Belleville West against East St. Louis in the previous 99 years
The Maroons (3-2) got a 74-yard pick six return from Dixon during a 22-point second quarter that included a pair of Jarrell Anderson touchdowns. Lanxon’s 48-yard interception return in the fourth quarter helped seal the win.
“It’s fun playing a great program like that,” West coach Cameron Pettus said. “We always love competing against those guys because they are so good. We’ve been playing these guys almost 100 year and Lord knows they’ve been on top of the rivalry a long time, so it’s good to get a couple wins back-to-back.”
An aggressive Maroons defense kept a lot of pressure on the Flyers (3-2), who still got two long TD receptions from one of the state’s top receivers, junior Jeff Thomas.
The West defense slammed the door on the Flyers’ running game and tried to keep heat on East Side quarterback Reyondus Estes. Estes was 9-for-26 passing for 219 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
The Maroons got standout games from outside linebacker Nick Foster, defensive end Demarlo Nesbitt and Lanxon, though the entire defense deserved a game ball according to Pettus.
Foster spent a great deal of time in the Flyers’ backfield. Foster’s deflection of an Estes pass was intercepted by Dixon, who returned it 74 yards for the tying score in the first half.
“Nick Foster was all over the field,” Pettus said. “When they tried to double team him it opened things up for some other guys on defense.”
The Flyers still outgained the Maroons 323 to 181, but those defensive TDs made a difference.
“We had some balls go our way,” Pettus said. “Our guys making great plays and scoring twice on defense, I’d love to say we could game plan that up but that’s just the kids making plays. Most times if you score on defense, you are going to win.”
Nesbitt was a disruptive force on the line.
“Obviously his size is a huge advantage, but also his quickness and his mentality,” Lanxon said. “He’s going to get to the quarterback no matter what. That’s a big part of our defense.”
On his interception return, Lanxon was well aware that Thomas — one of the fastest receivers in the Midwest — was chasing him from behind.
“I knew it was him because I was covering him and broke up his route to get the ball,” Lanxon explained. “Catching that ball and running it back ... it looked like it lasted for a few second but in my head that lasted for like 10 hours.”
Thomas caught four passes for 154 yards in the Flyers loss, including TDs of 82 and 60 yards.
“We just didn’t play well,” Thomas said. “We had way too many mistakes and penalties. Now we’ve got to get ready to play Edwardsville.”
Barring a possible teacher’s strike at East St. Louis, the Flyers play host to unbeaten Edwardsville at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Maroons exit one rivalry and drive straight into another with the annual Military Appreciation game at Belleville East, with former Maroons assistant Kris Stephens now the head coach at East. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday and tickets are on sale 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at the East and West bookstore. Retired and active military personnel will be admitted free.
“Last year we lost to East so it’s going to be an even bigger game,” Lanxon said. “We want to beat them just as much as we wanted to beat East Side.”
Injury blow to Highland Bulldogs
Highland senior Andrew Winning, one of the St. Louis area’s most productive running backs, suffered a left knee injury Friday in the win over Waterloo and will undergo an MRI exam Thursday to determine the extent of the damage.
“We’re in the dark a little bit until then and trying to stay positive,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. “There is a slight chance that it could be an ACL sprain, but it’s pretty hard to tell at this point.”
Through five games, Winning has piled up 803 yards and 16 TDs on just 82 carries. He also has 11 catches for 240 yards and another TD.
“He’s feeling a little better today, a little less pain,” Warnecke said of Winning, who left the Bulldogs’ win over Waterloo twice in the second half after being tackled. Warnecke said the first tackle resulted in a bruise, but the second one led to the knee injury. “It’s disappointing the way he was running the ball. I’ve never seen anything like that before, he was just dominant; also used him some in slot as another receiver.”
Highland (5-0) has two important Mississippi Valley Conference games coming the next two weeks against unbeaten Civic Memorial and Triad.
Warnecke said if Winning is unable to play, he would turn to junior Trent Rakers. Rakers is also enjoying a strong season with 290 yards and four TDs rushing on 29 carries, averaging 10 yards every time he touches the ball.
“In my mind he could start for any other team in the Mississippi Valley Conference and a lot of other conferences as well,” Warnecke said.
The East St. Louis-Belleville West game got out to a rousing start when players from both teams exchanged heated words in front of the East St. Louis bench. Both teams were whistled for unsportsmanlike penalties but no punches were thrown.
Belleville West Athletic Director Lee Meyer confirmed there no ejections resulting from the exchange.
(Dean Criddle also supplied information for this story).
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 (1)
Also receiving votes: Triad (5-0), O’Fallon (1-4), Collinsville (1-4), Granite City (2-3)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Nashville (5-0), Carlyle (2-3), Sparta (4-1), Wesclin (3-2), Freeburg (3-2)