Senior kicker Matt Sotiropoulos didn’t wake up Saturday morning thinking his performance would sway the outcome of the Belleville East Lancers’ cross-town showdown with the West Maroons.
But after four field goals, an on-side kick he recovered himself, and a punt inside the 5-yard line, his coach can’t think of any more valuable contribution to the 25-21 Lancers victory.
“There is no more obvious candidate for MVP today,” said East coach Kris Stephens.
Sotiropoulos hit field goals of 53, 43, 35 and 30 yards and helped East control the field position on a day when its otherwise high-flying Lancers offense was grounded by wind and a physical Belleville West defense.
His 53-yarder in the second quarter out-legged his previous personal best by 11 yards.
“Being the kicker, you don’t expect to play that big a role in a win,” Sotiropoulos said. “The wind helped today, definitely, but I’m just glad to have been given the opportunity.”
West outgained East 405 yards to 214, but three turnovers and 90 yards in penalties too often put the Maroons in a hole.
“East deserves a win and hopefully they can do something with this victory,” said West coach Cameron Pettus. “They just played better than us.”
East improved 4-2 with the win. The Lancers have games remaining with East St. Louis, O’Fallon and Collinsville, in that order. Two more wins will clinch a sure playoff berth.
The Maroons (3-3) entered Saturday’s game still unbeaten in the Southwestern Conference and fresh off a win over East St. Louis. They still have games with Edwardsville, Granite City and Alton.
With the Lancers holding a 12-7 lead Sotiropoulos rolled the second-half kickoff softly middle down the middle of the field and fell on it himself to give East possession at the West 46.
He then capped a seven-play, 28-yard drive with his third field goal of the day, 35 yards into a stiff wind.
“We just put that holy roller in just this week,” Stephens said. “Matt is a soccer player and we told him to kick it just like a 10-yard soccer pass. It turned the momentum and changed the possession to our favor.”
West responded to the score by driving to the East 6-yard line with hopes of tying the score, but a high snap over quarterback Logan Betz’s head resulted in a 23-yard loss and, eventually, a missed field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 22.
Early in the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-13, a Sotiropoulos punt left West pinned at its own 1-yard-line. The field position set up the Lancers for a short, 27-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Drew Millas to Conner Martin that made the score 22-7.
A failed attempt by the Maroons to convert a fourth-and-5 from their own 15 led to Sotiropoulos’ fourth field goal.
West scored twice in the final four minutes, once on a 2-yard keeper by Betz that capped an 85-yard drive, then with a 47-yard pass from Betz to TeAntez Anthony on the last play of the game.
Betz, a junior, completed 23-of-38 pass attempts for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Anthony made nine catches for 208 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown on the first play of West’s first possession.
For East, Moses Holman rushed for 82 yards on 19 carries. Millas was 12-of-28 for 146 yards with touchdown passes to Isaiah King (4 catches, 40 yards) and Martin (2 catches, 42 yards).
Late in the third quarter, junior Kyle Rensing recovered a fumble to kill a West drive at the Lancers’ 24-yard line.