Fort Zumwal West 35, Belleville West 14
On a night where Belleville West was enjoying its 2019 home opener and celebrating the 40th reunion of the Class of 1979, visiting Fort Zumwalt West stole the show.
After giving up a first-quarter touchdown to Belleville West’s Jordan Bruce, the Jaguars defense buckled down and the offense erupted for five touchdowns over the last three quarters to post a 35-14 win.
Fort Zumwalt West (2-1) struggled early on offense but the Jaguars defense was strong from the start, forcing four turnovers and not allowing West quarterback Jackson McCloskey to get untracked, intercepting three of his passes downfield.
“We love playing them (Belleville West) ... they are a great program with great players,” Fort Zumwalt West coach Ben Pike said. “I’ve been super proud of our defense this whole season. We have nine new starters on defense and these guys have stepped up tremendously.”
Belleville West (1-2) took the early lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Bruce with 7:08 left in the first quarter. Bruce’s big punt return inside the Jaguars 10 set up the score.
The Jaguars pulled even at 7-7 with 10:54 of the second quarter on James Strauss’ 2-yard touchdown run.
Just before the intermission, Fort Zumwalt West got the air game going, as quarterback Jake Murphy hooked up with Max Koviak on a brilliant slant catch and run that went for a 42-yard score, making it 14-7 with 2:50 left in the first half.
Murphy overcame a slow start against the inspired Maroons defense to toss four touchdowns.
“It was awesome, our defense had been playing well all year and it’s about time our offense backed them up, honestly,” Murphy said. “I hadn’t been passing the way I wanted to, but we finally got to air it out a little bit and the offensive line played awesome.”
Fort Zumwalt West stayed hot in third quarter, as Murphy capped off a 10-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Greiner and then hit Koviak with a 45-yard scoring pass with just 2:50 left in the quarter for a commanding 28-7 lead.
“I’m not looking for receivers, I’m looking for open spots and they were giving us open spots and we were running right through them. So when it’s there, I’m going to take it,” Murphy said.
The Maroons didn’t quit though, driving 63 yards in five plays capped by McCloskey’s 2-yard dive to trim the Jaguar lead to 28-14 as the third quarter concluded.
That was an encouraging sign for first-year Maroons coach Bryan Edgar.
“We’re lucky to have a quarterback like Jack that’s positive a positive leader, never gets down and keeps firing his team up. And in the fourth quarter those guys didn’t quit and to see my guys compete until the bell, that’s what we want,” Edgar said.
Murphy connected with Chris Kerr on a 19-yard pass with 10:32 left to complete the scoring.
Despite the tough finish, Edgar said he felt his young team got some valuable learning experience.
“We’re a very young football team and our main focus is trying to get 1 percent better every game. This type of challenge is good for these kids and they are going to learn from these mistakes and get better,” he said.
Belleville West is scheduled to resume action at 1 p.m. Saturday. Sept. 21, at East St. Louis in both teams’ Southwestern Conference opener.