Belleville high school sports always carried a “mystique” to Cameron Pettus, even as he was growing up in Paulding County, Ga.
He was coached in high school by Chuck Budde, son of longtime Belleville Township High School coach and athletic director Alfred “Boots” Budde, and current Belleville East assistant AD Todd Blomberg.
“I’ve been familiar with Belleville even growing up and it sounded like a very special place,” said Pettus. “It had long represented tradition to me.”
He couldn’t have imagined how entrenched he would become in that tradition.
He’s the 15th head coach at Belleville West, which traces its beginnings to a single Township High School. He’s in the sixth year as head of a program which is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Pettus will welcome more than 200 former players, cheerleaders and coaches Saturday when the Maroons celebrate their centennial with a 1 p.m. game against a school that shares their lineage, Belleville East.
“We’ve got alumni coming who go back to Coach (Hubert) Tabor in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Pettus said. “Based on feedback, I would not be surprised to see 5,000 people at the game. I’m so excited, it’s like I’m a little kid.”
It’s also Military Appreciation Day, a relatively new tradition held whenever the cross-town rivals meet.
But for the current players and coaches, there’s still business to attend to. Amid the celebrations, the Maroons and Lancers are trying to keep focus on what’s left of their Southwestern Conference schedules.
West (2-3) needs to win at least three of its final four games to reach the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
The 1-4 Lancers will have to run the table for hope of their third consecutive berth. Moreover East second-year head coach Kris Stephens is pressing a young team that lost 34 seniors from last season to continued week-over-week improvement.
“It’s going to be a neat atmosphere Saturday,” Stephens said. “The military game will still be an aspect of it and recognizing the 100 years and all the tradition at Belleville West and District 201 will add something really special to the day.
“But none of the rest of it is on our radar. Right now the only thing we are dealing with is Belleville West.”
KICKOFF: 1 p.m. Saturday at Belleville West
LAST MEETING: The Lancers built a second-half lead and hung on for a 25-21 win.
SPECIAL OCCASSION: BTHS District 201 will continue its tradition of honoring past and current members of the military before the game. Belleville West also invited all former players, cheerleaders and coaches to attend the game. Bob Goalby, a former standout athlete at Township High School and the 1968 PGA Masters Champion will handle the pre-game coin flip. All have been invited to a post-game reception at Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville with appetizers and a cash bar.
COACHES: Belleville West’s Cameron Pettus is 29-26 in his sixth season; East’s Kris Stephens is 7-8 in his second season.
SCOUTING THE MAROONS: West has played a typically-tough Southwestern Conference schedule in addition to non-conference games against state-ranked Batavia and Lincoln-Way East, both losses. The Maroons suffered their first conference loss, 52-0, last week against East St. Louis, Illinois’ top-ranked 7A team.
They have been outscored 164-105 and have games remain against East, Edwardsville, Granite City and Alton. It will take at least three wins to get them into the post season.
The Maroons are led by quarterback Logan Betz (37-of-86, 514 yards, 3 TD, 2 Int / 46 rush, 217 yards, 3 TD), whose father, Derek Betz, is a former West quarterback in the late ‘80s and grandfather Larry Betz, was the head coach for three seasons and a longtime offensive assistant for the Maroons.
They go deep at running back with junior Kriston Davis (84 rush, 442 yards, 5 TD) and junior Sherond Boyd (31 rush, 169 yards, TD). Senior Paris Johnson (17 rush, 131 yards, 2 TD) had a break out game in a Week 4 win over Collinsville after missing his junior year with a knee injury.
Senior wide receiver Jamar Edwards (11 catch, 204 yards, 2 TD) and Jacob McCloskey (10 catch, 112 yards, TD) are Betz’s favorite targets.
“I’m a big fan of running the football, but we’ve got to be able to pass to win against the good teams,” Pettus said. “Our completion percentage last week wasn’t it needs to be, so that’s got to improve.”
Defensively, the Maroons are led by senior defensive back Jack Lanxon (38 tackles, Int), son of former West quarterback and athletic director Mark Lanxon.
SCOUTING THE LANCERS: East had to replenish a lot of lost talent from last season’s team which compiled a 6-3 regular season record, then drop a first-round playoff game to Oswego, 28-20.
The young team has taken its lumps, being out scored 181-75 including a pair of shutouts.
“Execution is a problem and more to the point, consistency,” Stephens said. “We do a great job for two or three drives on offense and defense. Last week against Edwardsville, they turned the ball over to us three times in the first half, then we gave up three scores in the second quarter. Offensively, we can put together a drive and get inside the 20, then shoot ourselves in the foot and fail to get into the endzone.”
But there remains plenty of upside for the Lancers, especially on an offensive front that includes three sophomores and two juniors.
“That group has great potential,” Stephens said. “With a good off season of work, it can be special.”
And junior quarterback Kienen Waller (29-of-74, 516 yards, 4 TD, 5 Int. / 44 rush, 196 yards, TD) has shown both potential and drive.
“Kienen has been good. It doesn’t show in the stats, but he has a lot of skill and he makes some heady plays and gives great effort on every down,” Stephens said. “He has shown a level of development we’re really pleased with.”
Waller’s twin brother, Freddie Waller (44 carries, 196 yards, TD / 5 catches, 179 yards, 3 TD), has developed into a threat as both a ball carrier and big-play receiver.
Senior Roderick Morgan (44 carries, 249 yards, 2 TD) is East’s top ball carrier while Senior William Travis (6 catches, 142 yards, TD) is the top wide receiver.
Junior linebacker Dondi Fuller leads the team with 40 tackles and four sacks.