Althoff head coach Ken Turner knows that in order to replicate last season’s deep playoff run, his squad will have to survive its share of tight, close games.
The Crusaders passed one of those tests Friday.
Althoff rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit and thwarted a late two-point conversion attempt to hold off Cahokia, 21-20, to clinch a share of the South Seven Conference championship.
Cahokia (3-5, 2-3) was officially eliminated from the postseason with the loss. Althoff (7-1, 4-1) improved its seeding for the 5A playoffs, but just barely.
“You’ve got understand how to play close ball games, because in the playoffs it’s going to be that sometimes,” Turner said. “So being able to go through a few and pull them out, it builds these guys’ confidence, and they grow as a team.
“Althoff and Cahokia is a fun rivalry, and it was one heck of a football game.”
The score was knotted up at 14-14 entering the final quarter, but Althoff sophomore Dylan Appleton intercepted Malik Shaw’s pass and returned it 35 yards for a score with 5:35 remaining, giving the Crusaders their first lead of the game. Appleton had another interception earlier in the game and a third called back because of a penalty.
“All I was thinking was, I had to make that a pick six and go to the house to win the game,” Appleton said.
Cahokia punted on the ensuing possession, but Althoff missed a 39-yard field goal that could have iced the game.
Forced to start at his own 17-yard line with 1:58 to go, Shaw engineered a 4-play, 83-yard drive, capped off by a 28-yard score to Cortez Brown. Before he could find a receiver for the 2-point conversion, however, he was dropped in a swarm of white jerseys.
Althoff recovered the onside kick and knelt twice to end the game.
“Even with that play (the interception), Malik came back and led us down the field and put us in a position to win,” Cahokia coach John Clay said. “We practice the two-minute drill every day, and they went out there and executed. I was proud of them.”
The teams combined for one first down, three punts and a turnover on downs on their first four possessions, but Cahokia finally broke through late in the first quarter, when Shaw hit Demarion Hinkle for the first of two touchdown passes.
The Comanches converted that two-point try but failed to convert after the second Shaw-Hinkle connection, a 26-yard score in the middle of the second quarter.
After Cahokia was forced to fall on a bad snap during a punt attempt just before halftime, Althoff took over on the Cahokia 14 and got a 2-yard plunge from Richard Cosey to get on the scoreboard. Cosey was the star on the opening drive of the second half, carrying the ball five times for 60 yards including the game-tying 32-yard sprint.
The senior ended the night with 19 carries for 119 yard and two scores.