Granite City was in control of the game clock and its playoff future.
But when Belleville West linebacker Ray DeWalt stopped Warriors quarterback Freddie Edwards from making the go-ahead score on a fourth-down play at the Maroons’ 5-yard-line, he may have preserved his team’s own postseason hopes.
The Maroons went on to defeat their Southwestern Conference rival, 37-13, behind senior running back Paris Johnson’s 213 yards and three touchdowns. The victory sets up another must-win against Alton in next week’s regular-season finale.
West improved to 4-4, but thanks to a nonconference schedule that includes the likes of sixth-ranked Batavia and No. 8 Lincoln-Way East, will qualify for the playoffs on points with a win over the Redbirds.
“Playing those teams that we do before we roll into our conference pays off in tight games like this,” said West coach Cameron Pettus, who has led the Maroons to the postseason four years in a row. “I think it gives us the experience to play those good schools up north like we would have to in the first round of the playoffs. But it’s always playoff time for us when you start off 0-2.”
Granite City also can finish the season at 5-4 with a win over Edwardsville next week, but will be on the bubble as a postseason qualifier.
“You never know when they announce the pairings, so all we can do is go out this week and prepare for Edwardsville,” said Warriors coach Carl Luehmann.
Granite City held a 13-7 lead midway through the second quarter and had the ball at midfield. The Warriors successfully converted on a risky fourth-and-1 at their own 34, but on another fourth-and-1 just four plays later, elected to punt.
“It was just a coach’s decision,” Luehmann said. “We thought we could get a good punt and pin them deep in their own territory.”
But on the second play of the Maroons’ next possession, Johnson beat the Granite City linebackers to the sideline and won a 64-yard foot race to the end zone to put West back on top for good.
The Maroons took a 17-13 lead into halftime.
Granite City started its first possession of the second half at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter. Seventeen plays, 81 yards and more than 10 minutes later, it faced fourth-and-goal at the West 4-yard line.
Edwards, the freshman quarterback who rushed for 120 yards in the first half, rolled outside to his left but was stopped by DeWalt.
“We kind of went man on them and brought a lot of pressure to contain the quarterback,” Pettus said. “He scrambled and got to the outside and DeWalt forced him to move inside and maybe slip a little. If not, it would have been Edwards and the cornerback one-on-one ... and I don’t like him one-on-one with anybody.”
West went 94 yards on 10 plays capped by Johnson’s third touchdown of the game, a 12-yard run that gave the Maroons a two-possession lead.
Johnson finished with 213 yards on 19 carries. Part-time running back and part-time wide receiver, it was the senior’s second 100-plus-yard rushing game after missing almost all of last year with a knee injury.
“Before the game they tell me which position that will be best for me,” Johnson said. “I guess this game was made for me to dominate at running back. I’ve got to give the line a lot of credit. They opened up the holes up front that gave me room.”
Belleville West scored twice in the final 13 seconds, first on a 26-yard slant pass from Logan Betz to Will Lanxon, and then on an interception by Cortez Moore as time expired.
With 146 yards rushing and 136 more on 12-of-19 passing, Edwards accounted for most of the Granite City offense. He scored both of the Warriors’ touchdowns.
Kendrick Williba, back from the dislocated hip he suffered in Week 3, had six receptions for 47 yards. Tight end Kyle Thompson caught four passes for 63 yards.
For West, Kriston Davis contributed 43 yards on seven carries and Will Lanxon had three receptions for 65 yards. Quarterback Logan Betz finished four-of-10 for 115 yards and a touchdown.