The eighth week of the Illinois high school football season is must-win territory for Belleville West and Granite City.
Both are in the running for a Class 7A playoff berth, but likely would their chases ended with a loss in either of the next two weeks. The dream will be shattered for one of them Friday when the Warriors travel to Belleville for a 7 p.m. kickoff with the Maroons.
Granite City, 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the Southwestern Conference, is having its best season since 2011, which is the last time the Warriors qualified for the post season.
But with a weak nonconference schedule — they opened against Jerseyville and Carbondale, both 2-5 — the Warriors may not have the playoff points to qualify at 5-4. That means must-win situations for the Warriors begin Friday against the Maroons and next week at No. 9 Edwardsville.
“You never know how things will fall out for the playoffs, but our approach is to take control of our own fate by going out and winning two games,” said Granite City head coach Carl Luehmann. “We’re playing well, the kids believe in themselves, so I think we’re in a good position.”
The Maroons, 3-4 overall, will have all the points they need thanks to nonconference games against state-ranked Batavia (ranked sixth in Class 7A) and Lincoln-Way East (No. 8 in Class 8A), plus their usual bump from conference rivals Edwardsville and East St. Louis.
But to get to 5-4, West also has to sweep games this Friday and next week at home against Alton.
“With the talented nonconference schedule we play and the good teams we see in conference, we’ve certainly been in this situation before,” said West head coach Cameron Pettus. “But it’s been a good week of practice and we look forward to these kinds of games and the challenges that a team like Granite City gives us.”
Playoff points are determined by total wins, total wins by opponents, and total wins by opponents defeated.
SCOUTING GRANITE CITY: The Warriors have no trouble scoring points. They were shut out by East St. Louis in Week 4, but have otherwise scored no fewer than 34 points in a game.
Granite City’s offense took a turn in a third-week win over Belleville East, when senior quarterback Kendrick Williba was knocked out for the remainder of the season with a dislocated hip.
Freshman Freddy Edwards has proven to be an able replacement, however. He doesn’t pass like Williba — he’s completed 43 percent of his 37 attempts for 194 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions — but has rushed 87 times for 963 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns.
Pettus said Edwards “may be the best freshman football player I’ver ever seen. Luehmann says he’ll get even better.
“He throws the ball really well, but has had to learn the system fast,” Luehmann said. “Like any young athlete, he’ll have to use these next three years to get bigger, stronger and wiser. But he’s got great speed and a lot of potential to be an oustanding football player.”
Despite starting at quarterback the last three four weeks, Edwards remains the Warriors top receiver statistically. Nine others have catches, including Raheem Beckwith, who has seven receptions for 20 yards.
Beckwith also is second among active players with 285 yards on 60 carries.
Linebackers Kyle Thompson (39 tackles, 3 sacks) and Brandon Bettag (35 tackles, 5 sacks) lead an inconsistent defense that has allowed 35.7 points per game.
SCOUTING BELLEVILLE WEST: All four of the Maroons’ losses are against teams ranked in the top 10 in Illinois class 8A or 7A.
The score of last week’s 30-7 loss to No. 9 Edwardsville was deceiving, however, due to untimely turnovers that set the Tigers up with a short field for three of its scores. A fourth touchdown, from 45-yards out, occured on a broken fourth-and-3 play.
West outgained Edwardsville in the second half, however, thanks to the solid effort on the line. Pettus said it gave the Maroons something to build on for the playoff push.
Senior Logan Betz (42-of-103, 630 yards, 5 TD, 2 Int) is the starting quarterback, but sophomore Will Lanxon took his first snaps under center in the second half against Edwardsville and led West to its only score.
Betz was sore following a blow to the ribs against Edwardsville, but has improved in practice this week.
“He was having a hard time moving around for a while, but he didn’t look to be having any trouble at practice the other day,” Pettus said. “We’ve given Will some snaps this week and have a package ready to go if need be.”
Junior Kriston Davis has emerged as one of the better backs in the Southwestern Conference after missing most of last season with a broken ankle. He leads the Maroons with 831 yards on 131 carries (6.3 average) including 389 combined yards the last two weeks.
Senior Jack Lanxon is the Maroons’ top tackler with 53 and has two interceptions. Linebacker Tristin Caswell had 40 tackles and linebacker Jonathan Clover has 20 tackles with three quarterback sacks.
The Maroons have been outscored 194 to 156.