Cameron Pettus is the kind of football coach who’s most at ease when his offense is moving the ball between the tackles.
Get three or four yards at a time. Control the clock. Control the game.
Who, then, could have foreseen the arrival of Air Pettus at Belleville West?
“Not me, that’s for sure,” said the Maroons’ eighth-year head coach, “but here we are.”
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West (7-2) will be making its seventh straight appearance in the IHSA Class 7A playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday when Pettus and the Maroons travel north to Wheaton for a first-round game against Warrenville South (8-1).
They have gotten there largely on the wings of a potent pass attack directed by junior quarterback Jack McCloskey that has so far established 11 new career, season and single-game records. Four others remain within reach.
The Maroons are generating 41 points per game and have topped 50 points three times, all behind a sizable front that includes All-City senior linemen Dwight Oregon and Jalen Rogers.
But it’s McCloskey and primary receivers Dominic Lovett and Will Lanxon who are replacing such familiar names as Joe Young, John Bunch, Gary Mauser and TeAntez Anthony in the Belleville West record book.
“It’s just like I was saying to Coach (Bryan) Edgar. He was like, ‘Man, it seems like all we do is throw the ball.’ I told him we have to do what we’re good at,” Pettus said. “We’ve got some really, really good receivers, a guy like Jack who can throw the ball and an offensive line that can protect him. If they stack the box and try to take away the run game, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball.”
The West coaching staff named McCloskey the team’s most valuable player on offense for his school-record 1,977 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. Still just a junior, he’s also completed 57 percent of his 217 attempts and has a near-perfect passer rating of 123.67.
But he’s not the only valuable weapon in the Maroons’ huddle. Lanxon, a senior, has caught 36 passes for 550 yards and six touchdowns. With just 113 more reception yards, he’ll be the school’s career leader in that category. Tight end Will Shumpert (14 catches, 186 yards and 4 TD) also has been an important safety valve for McCloskey.
The Maroons can still run the football, much to McCloskey’s chagrin — “Any time we can throw it is alright with me,” he says. But senior running back DJ Johnson has balanced West’s attack with 887 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Jordan Bruce has kicked in 224 more yards and a pair of scores on just 30 attempts.
“We have so many weapons all over the field,” said McCloskey, who was the Maroons’ leading passer last year despite playing in just six games as a sophomore. “The ability to run the football opens up the passing game and vice versa. But when you have guys like Dominic and Will, it’s hard for the other team to keep both covered. If they do somehow, then there’s DJ.
“I think we have good balance.”
But McCloskey seems to have developed special chemistry with Lovett, a sophomore who already owns the school record for career touchdown receptions. The two have connected on 23 touchdowns this season.
“Last year when I got moved up to varsity after about the third game, we had already connected for six or seven touchdowns.,” McCloskey said. “Most of it is him. Dominic is an incredible athlete and has great speed. He makes a lot of things happen after the catch.”
Lovett had the season record of touchdown receptions by week 4 and had tied the career record against Edwardsville in week 8. His five last week against Belleville East broke his own single-game record of four, which he set against O’Fallon in week 2.
“I’m just working every day to get stronger and faster and learn to run my routes better,” Lovett said following the record-breaking victory. “Other than that, I know I can trust Jack to get me the ball because he’s so accurate with his throws.”
Class 8A playoff qualifier Edwardsville was the only speed bump along the way, holding the Maroons to just six points on Oct. 12. McCloskey says his unit’s performance in the week 8 loss was an aberration, a product of the hype surrounding a game against a key conference opponent and an unexpected defensive ploy by the Tigers.
“It was humbling for us,” McCloskey said. “We were confident and we felt like we were prepared, but they didn’t do what we expected them to do on defense and we weren’t ready for it. We learned from it though, I hope.”
(Through week 9)
New: Dominic Lovett (23)
Previous: TeAntez Anthony (8)
New: Jack McCloskey (34)
Previous: Gary Mauser (16)
New: Dominic Lovett (947)
Previous: TeAntez Anthony (686)
New: Jack McCloskey (1,977)
Previous: Logan Betz (1,475)
New: Logan Seibert (42)
Previous: Austin Seibert (41)
(Through Week 9 2018)
New: Jack McCloskey (41)
Previous: John Bunch (26)
New: Dominic Lovett (23)
Previous: TeAntez Anthony (18)
New: Jack McCloskey (189)
Previous: Sherand Boyd (179)
New: Dominic Lovett (5 vs. Belleville East)
Previous: Geo Votava (4 in 1923 vs. Edwardsville) and Dominic Lovett (4 in 2018 vs. O’Fallon)
Tie: Jack McCloskey (5 in 2018 v. Granite City, Collinsville and Belleville East) and Joe Young (5 in 1976 vs. Collinsville)
Records within reach
CAREER RECEIVING YARDS
Current: TeAntez Anthony (1,483)
Challenger: Will Lanxon (1,370)
CAREER PASSING YARDS
Current: Sherand Boyd (2,836)
Challenger: Jack McCloskey (2,711)
POINTS SCORED IN A SEASON
Current: Dick McKelvey (149 in 1942)
Challenger: Dominic Lovett (132 in 2018)
TOUCHDOWNS SCORED IN A SEASON
Current: Dick McKelvey (24 in 1942)
Challenger: Dominic Lovett (23 in 2018)