With an open receiver streaking down the sideline late in the third quarter Friday, the last person Triad Knights quarterback Tommy Bauer wanted to see in his face was Althoff senior linebacker Bryson Strong.
Strong’s blitz forced Bauer into a rushed incompletion on Triad’s only pass play of the night and Althoff turned a 14-7 lead at that point into a 37-7 victory to record its second straight unbeaten regular season at 9-0.
The Crusaders finally found an offensive rhythm after that, hanging up three touchdowns and a safety in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Knights (6-3). Both teams have already clinched state playoff berths.
“Me and (defensive assistant) coach (Austin) Frazier set up really good keys watching their film,” Strong explained. “He just put me in a great position to make plays and the D-linemen did a great job. I did what I was supposed to do.”
Bauer had no time to get the ball off.
“A great play, that’s what he’s done for four years,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said of Strong, a four-year starter who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “Great linebacker and emotional leader, intense ... it was needed.”
After dealing with Triad’s patient and time-consuming option attack all night, Althoff finally found enough offense.
Trey Mosley hit Jordan Goodwin on a 17-yard touchdown pass and just over two minutes later C.J. Coldon got behind everyone to grab a 52-yard TD pass. The Crusaders added a safety on a high snap into the end zone and Althoff running back Jaylon Bester, who finished with 139 yards on 20 carries, scored on a 1-yard run with 4:59 remaining to put things further out of reach.
Althoff led 14-7 at halftime with Triad finding success on the ground, including a 45-yard TD run by Trevor Nott. The Knights also were playing solid defensively, picking up four sacks with an aggressive all-out assault.
“Frustration wasn’t really the word, it was more like patience,” Strong said. “We know we’ve got to attack and the offense started out a little slow, that’s why we’ve got a defense. They run a nice offense, they do a good job at what they do.”
Strong didn’t seem overly impressed by Althoff’s 9-0 record. Like his teammates, he still remembers the sting of a 51-7 defeat by Chicago Phillips in the Class 4A state championship game last November.
“It’s great to be in the record books, but we’re definitely not done yet,” Strong said when asked about back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons. “This is not our goal, our goal is to get to Champaign just like we made it to Northern Illinois last year — and win it all.”
Triad coach Paul Bassler has called a total of three passes in the last two games against Althoff and two of them loomed large in the outcome. Last season an Althoff interception turned momentum in a 33-21 victory and on Friday it was an incompletion that instead could have been a TD pass.
“We were one play away, it was just like last year,” Bassler said. “We had a receiver wide open, nobody around him, we just didn’t get the ball off. We broke down on protection, it was our mistake. That’s the second year in a row I called a pass play in that kind of key situation.
“Maybe it just isn’t meant to be, we needed to keep the ball on the ground.”
The Crusaders took the lead on a 1-yard run by Mosley, but Triad answered quickly, taking a 7-6 lead on a 45-yard TD run by Nott down the right sideline and the extra point by Collin Black.
A full-out diving catch by Coldon set up a 2-yard TD run by Mosley with 2:21 remaining in the first half. Mosley passed to Coldon for the 2-point conversion, giving the Crusaders a 14-7 lead.
“Good game plan,” Turner said. “They ran the 25-second clock down every time and they kept the ball away from us. They always play hard, it’s always a hard-fought game. We were able to come out and get that lead and kind of put the pedal to the metal and put them on their heels.”