It all began with a 0-0 tie against Edwardsville in 1916.
One hundred years later, the Belleville West Maroons are holding their century of football celebration before, during and after their 1 p.m. home game Saturday against city rival Belleville East.
The Maroons, then known as Belleville Township High School, scored only six points in their first season - and that came on an 85-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Collinsville by Kurt Lueuschner. They were outscored 121-6 that season at North End Park on North Illinois Street, but went on to build one of the top football traditions in the metro-east.
The Maroons were unbeaten in 1929 (9-0), 1938 (10-0) and 1962 (10-0). They also have won nine or more games 12 times, the last time in 1976 when West set a school record with 11 victories.
The most lopsided win was a 108-0 victory over Sparta in the 1942 opener that included 699 yards rushing and 826 yards of offense. Nine players scored at least one touchdowns in the game, led by Dick McElvey’s four TDs.
Joe Young played quarterback for Belleville West in the mid-1970s, including the 11-1 1976 season that saw the Maroons go unbeaten until a 13-10 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 5A semifinals.
“Back then in the playoffs, every round you were playing a conference champion,” said Young, part of a 1976 squad that included all-state linebacker Kirk Sonnenberg and offensive stars back Austin Kattenbraker and Bob Carroll. “There was nobody getting in at 5-4 or 6-3, anything like that.”
Township Stadium, recently renovated and now known as Lindenwood Stadium, still holds a special place in Young’s memory.
“I’ll never forget playing in the old stadium,” said Young, a photojournalist for KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis. “Playing in the old stadium, there was nothing like that. There was just something about walking down that walkway onto the field... it was just magical.
“You were so close to the stands and the field had the big crowd on it. It was such a unique place.”
Young grew up in Belleville attending games at Township Stadium and later had the thrill of playing quarterback for the Maroons during an unbeaten regular season and Southwestern Conference championship.
During his younger days, he recalled the massive crowds that reached 10,000 or more in East St. Louis and Belleville for the annual Thanksgiving Day game between the Flyers and Maroons. The teams played on Thanksgiving Day every year but one (1929) from 1926 to 1973.
“Even to this day, you still have memories of the place,” Young said of Township Stadium, which was pinned in by railroad tracks on one side and offered the closest view for fans of any stadium in the region. “It just felt like football. You’d see the glow of the lights and as a kid going to games there it was juts so cool. To be able to play there was just awesome.
“(Belleville West) was quite the winning program and you were just proud to carry that tradition on, proud of the fact that you played on championship team.”
Belleville West is inviting all former players, coaches, cheerleaders and cheerleading coaches to attend the game and be part of the celebration. Former PGA Masters champ Bob Goalby, a former football star at Belleville Township, will serve as honorary captain and handle the pregame coin flip.
A postgame reception will be held at Fischer’s Restaurant at Belleville with appetizers and a cash bar.
Milk Bowl memories
After winning only four of the previous 32 Milk Bowl encounters with rival Mate Dei, the Central Cougars were due for a massive celebration if they ever won another one.
That celebration took place Friday after Central posted a 46-35 victory that included 216 yards rushing and six touchdowns from senior running back Collin Thomas before another overflow crowd of more than 3,000.
“It was pretty indescribable,” said Central coach Brian Short, whose team improved to 5-0. “Outside of my wedding and my children being born, there’s not much of a better night than that one. Until 2013, I didn’t really realize how important this game was until we won one.
“Getting to win one at home was special, being in front of our home crowd.”
Central led 21-13 heading to the fourth quarter before both defenses were put to the test in an offensive explosion.
“I twas a complete shootout,” Short said. “Somebody asked me when I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable until there were zeros on the board and (Mater Dei quarterback) Colin Schuetz was on their bus.”
The most special moment for Short was seeing his team celebrate while surrounded by fans who had stormed the field after the rare victory over the Knights.
“Seeing our crowd on the field after the game ... seeing that many people at Central High School excited about football, was a pretty special moment for me,” he said. “To see the looks on our kids faces when they see that much sport for them, that’s pretty special for me.”
Conference races are tight
Edwardsville (5-0) will put a 30-game Southwestern Conference win streak on the line Friday night when the Tigers play host to the 5-0 East St. Louis Flyers.
Edwardsville’s last conference loss was to East St. Louis, a 14-7 defeat on Sept. 7, 2012. The Tigers avenged that loss later in the same season, defeating the Flyers 21-18 in the state playoffs.
Edwardsville has won the last three games against East St. Louis, including 29-28 in 2013 and 57-32 in 2014. The third game was a forfeit win over the Flyers last season during the East St. Louis teachers strike.
Highland (4-1) and Civic Memorial (4-1) are tied atop the Mississippi Valley Conference standings with identical 2-0 league records, with Triad (4-1) and Waterloo (3-2) each 1-1 in the league. Several intriguing games remain, with Highland still to face Triad and Civic Memorial and Triad also with a game against Civic Memorial.
Waterloo has Jerseyville, Civic Memorial and Mascoutah remaining on its league schedule.
The Cahokia Conference race should begin shorting itself out this week, but right now there are still three 5-0 teams with Columbia (3-0 in league play), Central (3-0 in league play) and Red Bud (4-0 in league play).
Central travels to Red Bud on Friday and still must play Columbia, with Columbia still scheduled to face both teams.
Columbia owns four straight conference titles and a 27-game conference unbeaten streak dating back to a 27-20 loss to Red Bud on Oct. 24, 2011. Ironically, that season marked the last time Columbia lost to Central, a 27-20 week coming seven days after the Red Bud defeat.
BND Prep 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 (4)
Also receiving votes: Highland (4-1), Granite City (3-2), Waterloo (3-2), Triad (4-1), Belleville East (1-4)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Mater Dei (2-3), Nashville (3-2), Wood River (3-2), Carlyle (1-4), Wesclin (2-3)
Here are the weekly Belleville News-Democrat Game Balls given to area football players for some top performances in Week 5:
- Althoff senior running back and Miami (Ohio) recruit Jaylon Bester erupted for a career-high 331 yards and four touchdowns Friday in the Crusaders’ 40-21 South Seven Conference win over previously unbeaten Centralia. His highlight of the night may have been a 73-yard run when the Crusaders were facing a rare third-and-55 play. Bester has racked up a metro-east best 991 yards and 13 TDs on only 58 carries, averaging a whopping 17.1 yards per carry.
- Red Bud senior running back Ryan Hess was at his defense-destruction best again Friday, running for 301 yards and four TDs in the Musketeers’ 56-30 Cahokia Conference win over Freeburg. Hess is second among area running backs with 947 yards on 80 carries, averaging 11.8 yards per carry. Red Bud quarterback Griffin Ziebold completed 7-of-10 passes for 201 yards and two TDs against the Midgets.
- East St. Louis got two second-quarter punt returns for touchdowns by Perez Hall Jr. on Friday as the Flyers pounded Belleville West 52-0. Hall had a 38-yard punt return for a TD early in the second quarter, then tacked on a 71-yarder for another score before the first half ended.
- Central senior running back Collin Thomas wanted to win a Milk Bowl for his high school career ended and he got the job done, running for 216 yards and six TDs Friday in a 46-35 win over rival Mater Dei. Central running back Ben Rakers was also effective in the victory, adding 112 yards rushing on offense and returning an interception 47 yards for a defensive TD.
- East St. Louis senior quarterback and Missouri recruit Reyondous Estes completed 15-of-23 passes for 364 yards and four TDs in a 52-0 Southwestern Conference win over Belleville West. Estes has thrown for 925 yards and 10 TDs this season with three interceptions.
- East St. Louis senior All-American receiver Jeff Thomas showed he was healthy again, hauling in six catches for 205 yards and two TDs in a 52-0 win over Belleville West.
- Althoff senior receiver C.J. Coldon piled up 172 yards on five catches Friday, including a 95-yard TD pass from Trey Mosley, in the Crusaders’ 40-21 win over Centralia. Althoff senior defensive tackle Christian Wills had 10 tackles and three sacks.
- Columbia junior running back Colton Byrd had a huge night and did it all in the first half, rolling up 172 yards and a school-record six TDs in a 55-6 Cahokia Conference win over Carlyle. Byrd was a man bent on destruction, piling up four TD runs in the first quarter covering 59, 24, 23 and 4 yards. In the second quarter, he had TD runs covering 23 and 21 yards. Byrd has 674 yards rushing this season with 11 TDs.
- Granite City freshman Freddy Edwards had another big night, rolling up 203 yards rushing and three TDs on 19 carries in a 34-18 Southwestern Conference win over Collinsville. Edwards, playing quarterback, had a 63-yard TD run to open the scoring and later added two more scores, including a 38-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
- Edwardsville sophomore running back Dionte Rodgers ran for 148 yards and three TDs to help the unbeaten Tigers knock off Belleville East 49-13.
- Highland senior running back Trent Rakers had 217 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries as the Bulldogs, playing without injured quarterback Garrett Marti, defeated league rival Waterloo 14-3.
- O’Fallon quarterback Christian Perez completed 13-of-26 passes for 295 yards and four TDs Friday in a 56-28 Southwestern Conference win over Alton.