In truth, the playoffs began for the Belleville West Maroons last week.
After seven games and four losses, they knew their only way into the Class 7A post-season was a perfect finish.
That much was completed Friday night with a 41-20 win at Alton. Senior running back Nick Foster, a linebacker who is listed fourth on the West depth chart at running back, rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
Now it’ll just take a phone call to make the Maroons’ fourth playoff berth in as many years official.
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“We think we’re in good shape, but we’ve been trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves because we had to focus first on beating Alton tonight,” said Cameron Pettus, who has led the Maroons to the post season in three of his previous four seasons as West’s head coach.
43West’s playoff points, which is more than half the six-win teams that clinched playoff berths in Week 8
At 5-4, the Maroons will have to depend on an at-large bid based on tie-breaker points that equal the total wins of their opponents. Headed into Friday’s game with the Redbirds, West had more points than 11 teams that had already secured their place in the post-season field of 32.
Among the remaining contenders, they had the fourth most points, with no fewer than 10 spots still open. They picked up five more Friday night to improve their total to 43 playoff points.
Playoff pairings will be announced officially Saturday night.
Alton saw its season end at 1-8, just a year after finishing 5-4 and on the bubble for its first playoff bid since 2006. The Redbirds made it interesting, though, fighting back to within two scores in the third quarter.
We think we're in good shape, but we've been trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves because we had to focus first on beating Alton tonight.
Cameron Pettus, Belleville West head coach on the Maroons’ at-large playoff hopes
West carried a 20-0 lead into halftime with a pair of touchdown runs by Foster and a 25-yard scoring pass from quarterback Logan Betz to TeAntez Anthony. The defense, meanwhile, held Alton to just 19 yards of offense in first half.
But Alton battled back to 35-20 and moved the ball to the West 27 yard line. On second down, Anthony intercepted a Keenan Stegall pass and returned it 84 yards for a Maroons’ touchdown.
“We’ve had so many injuries we had to play TeAntez at a safety,” Pettus said. “That pick-six was a big play because it made the difference, probably, between a one-score game and a three-score lead.”
Betz scored once more on a six-yard keeper to put the game away.
247 Senior Nick Foster’s total rushing yards on 34 carries
4th Foster’s place on the Maroons’ depth chart at running back
Foster carried 34 times for 247 yards including scoring runs of one, 10 and 54 yards. He had 146 yards on 25 carries in the first half alone.
“Nick is a great athlete and was a workhorse for us tonight,” Pettus said. “I’m proud of him.”
In addition to the interception return, Anthony had three catches for 77 yards and two for touchdowns. It was his second straight three-touchdown game.
For Alton, Asa Collins had 91 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns, including a 65 yard run early in the third quarter. Stegall rushed for 85 yards on 11 carries.