The football playoffs started early for the Belleville West Maroons when they suffered their fourth loss in the seventh week of the season.
But they fought their way back onto the bubble with a win over Granite City and a 41-7 dismantling of Alton in the regular-season finale Friday.
Officially, it’s a matter of wait-and-see for the Maroons, who joined the list of 5-4 teams in Illinois’ Class 7A that won’t know their playoff fate until the Illinois High School Association releases its pairings Saturday night.
Unofficially, the Maroons’ strength of schedule should give them ample playoff points to qualify.
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“We had 39 points going into tonight and we’ll pick up a few more through the night,” said West coach Cameron Pettus. “Borderline teams are usually at 38 or 39 anyway, so if we’re up around 43 or 44, we’ll be in. We’re excited and can’t wait to see who we get.”
If all goes as expected, it’ll be West’s fifth straight postseason appearance and eighth in the last nine years. Exactly who the Maroons might face in the first round would be nothing more than a guess until the pairings are made known at 9:10 Saturday night.
But a lengthy trip upstate is a near certainty. West already has faced Chicago-area powerhouses Batavia and Lincoln-Way East this season. Two years ago, the Maroons got their first playoff win in more than 20 years when they made a five-hour trip to defeat Bradley-Bourbonnais.
“We know that the playoffs run through Chicago for us, being a large school like we are,” Pettus said. “That was the game plan early in the year playing against those types of teams. Hopefully, it pays off now when we go on the road to play what will be a very good team.”
Junior Kriston Davis and senior Paris Johnson combined for 175 yards rushing and five touchdowns Friday in a game dominated by the Maroons’ line play.
Israel Griffin, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound tackle, said reaching the playoffs has been his unit’s singular focus since summer drills began, and he felt the pressure to produce in the Maroons’ recent must-win games.
“I felt that, but it’s just persevering, in my opinion,” Griffin said. “This is what we worked for and what we all knew we wanted beginning back in the summer. We just went for it.”
Alton finished 0-9, its first winless season since 2011 and just its second in the program’s 113-year history. Alton is 1-17 under second-year head coach Eric Dickerson.
West opened the game with an eight-play, 67-yard drive capped by Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Alton punter C.J. Nasello pinned West on its own 2-yard line to start its next possession, but it only took eight plays until senior Logan Betz hit Will Lanxon with a 23-yard touchdown pass that made it 13-0.
Johnson scored his second touchdown of the game on a 4-yard run and Betz scored on a 10-yard keeper to put the Maroons on top 27-0. The Maroons outgained Alton 289-103 in the first half.
A 27-yard pass from Betz to Johnson midway through the third quarter and a 9-yard touchdown run by Davis closed out the scoring for West.
Alton got its points on a 70-yard kick off return by junior Rashad Williams.
Davis had a game-high 151 yards rushing on 18 carries, his fifth 100-yard game of the season. Johnson finished with 125 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to go with two receptions for 61 yards and another score.
Betz was 7-for-9 for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Jacob McCloskey caught two passes for 40 yards and Will Lanxon had three for 29.
For Alton, Kiondray Samelton had 56 yards on 12 carries and quarterback Taylor Price went 8-for-23 for 82 yards.