After watching the Freeburg Midgets take a 58-53 lead with under two minutes left in its Cahokia Conference game last Friday, Wesclin quarterback Josh DeMage calmly walked onto the playing turf at Freeburg High School and into the Warriors’ huddle.
As DeMage saw it, there was no reason to panic.
“We had gotten a good (kickoff) return and had good field position. Plus, we had been behind late in the game a couple of times this year and so we had the confidence that we could do it again,” DeMage said. “We feel like we can score every time we get the football.
“It was a matter of everybody just doing their jobs and us executing. There hasn’t been a defense around that has held us to 20 points.”
And in the highest scoring game of the season, the Midgets couldn’t stop the Warriors either. With only 13 seconds remaining, DeMage connected with Brandt Goings on an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Wesclin the lead for good in a 61-58 win.
That win moved the Warriors to 7-0 for just the second time in school history and clinched at least a tie for the Warriors’ first Cahokia Conference title. Wesclin, which is now 5-0 in league play, can clinch the outright Cahokia Conference title for the first time in school history Friday when it hosts Clinton County rival Central (4-3) at 7 p.m.
The Cougars have ruined Wesclin’s undefeated dreams before. The only other time Wesclin began the season with seven straight wins was in 2005 and it was Central, which defeated the Warriors 33-25 to win the league championship that time.
Already in the IHSA playoffs, the Warriors have been one of the major stories in the 2017 season. Just 4-5 a year ago, coach Ric Johns team has relied heavily on a diverse running attack which is averaging 373 yards per game. Wesclin has 2,611 yards on the ground this season.
Junior Gavin Bilbruck leads the Warriors’ attack with 973 yards and 13 touchdowns, while speed backs RJ Kattenbraker (611 yards, 5 touch downs) and KJ Corley (509 yards, 2 touch downs) have also been major factors in the running game. DeMage has run for 409 yards and eight touchdowns while also completing more than 67 percent of his pass attempts for 457 yards and five touchdowns.
“I think that’s been one of the big differences from last year to this season. We’ve got Gavin, who is a power running back, and we have RJ and myself, who are more speed running backs who want to get outside and go,” Corley said. “This is my second year on the varsity and this team is so much closer.
“Everybody is getting along and working together. We all have one goal and that’s to keep winning football games. I think we all are thinking ahead a little bit, but so far we’ve been able to focus on the game we have coming up. This week its Central.”
The quiet man of the Warriors backfield is Bilbruck, who has been nearly unstoppable this season. Running behind a talented offensive line, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Bilbruck simply runs over opposing defensive linemen and linebackers.
“Our offensive line has just been great all season. In some cases, they are knocking defenders back four or five yards off the line scrimmage,” Bilbruck said. “To be 7-0 right now, I guess some people may be surprised by our success.
“But we know how much work we put in during the off-season. We knew we had a chance to have a good season. We just hope to keep going for as long as we can in the playoffs.”
The Warriors’ success is also becoming a hot topic in both New Baden and Trenton. In the midst of perhaps the finest season in school history, the Warriors are drawing interest of people of all ages who maybe have never been to a game before
“I’ve had teachers in school come up and say they saw that we won and tell us to keep it going, and I’ve had people on the street that I don’t know who are coming up and saying things to me because they know who I am and that I’m on the football team,” DeMage said. “People are seeing that we are having success and they are happy for us. I think its great.”
The Warriors will conclude the regular season Oct. 20 when they host non-conference foe Robinson. A little more than 24 hours later, Wesclin will learn who its first round postseason opponent will be when the Illinois High School Association announced its brackets in all eight classes.
“I think we all fee like we can do well in the playoffs. On offense we feel like we can move the football on anybody,” Kattenbraker said. “Josh (DeMage) is a great leader and we’ve got three good running backs who all work together very well.
“Defenses can’t stack up and focus on one back. Because of that I think we could have some success in the playoffs. But right now, we’re all focused on playing Central on Friday. It’s one week, one game at a time.”