Two first-year coaches arrived at the football stadium at Belleville East High School Friday night trying to change the culture within their respective programs.
At evening’s end, one of them boarded a bus back to upstate to Aurora with six hours of highway to celebrate his first victory.
It was Metea Valley’s John Parpet who found a toe-hold in his effort to bring the Mustangs their first winning season in five years with a 21-17 victory over East, his first as their head coach.
“It’s going to be a progression of these kids learning how to win close games,” Parpet said. “Our kids need to learn how to play winning football in tight games. They haven’t been in these kinds of situations too much. It feels awesome. We’re going to take a six-hour bus ride back home and let it sink in how it feels.”
For Belleville East’s Mike Harris, the Lancers remain one big play away from turning a corner.
“You look back at the game and we had six or seven dropped passes, we had seven or eight penalties,” he said. “You don’t win or lose a football game on one play — even though tonight we could have won with one play.
“We may feel like we’re a play away here or a play away there, but until we can take care of the little details that add up over a game, we’re going to have outcomes like this.”
The Lancers fell to 0-3 on the season and are looking for their first win since Sept. 21 of last year.
Metea Valley took a 21-17 lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter on a 6-yard run by senior running back Colin Wilcox.
The Mustangs then threatened to put the game away with a sustained, time-killing drive, but the Lancers’ defense stopped Wilcox on fourth down at the goal line. Wilcox says he pushed the ball across the goal line and the Metea Valley coaching staff argued as much.
“I was in,” Wilcox said, “but it doesn’t matter now. We pushed through the adversity and got the outcome we wanted.”
Junior quarterback Lucas Maue led the Lancers 70 yards into Metea Valley territory, but couldn’t connect with his receivers in four shots toward the end zone before time expired.
“That’s a good team over there regardless of their record,” Parpet said of Belleville East. “Our kids had a six hour bus ride, had to play that physical of a team, then deal with all that at the end. I’m very, very proud of our guys.”
Belleville East was the first on the scoreboard when Maue connected with tight end Jyaire Bowens for a 29-yard completion to the Mustangs’ 1-yard line which set up a touchdown plunge by junior Jeremey Schooler.
Metea Valley tied it at the 11:29 mark of the second quarter on Logan Fredericks’ 18-yard strike to Jalen Johnson. The scoring play capped a 67-yard drive keyed by Wilcox’s 29-yard run on a third-down play.
His 8-yard run, after the Mustang’s converted a fourth-down at the Lancer 11, put Metea Valley ahead 14-7 just six minutes later.
Alex Maxim closed out the first-half scoring with a 25-yard field goal for Belleville East to make it 14-10, then Schooler put the Lancers in the lead on their first possession of the second half when he broke a 67-yard run.
Schooler finished with 128 yards on 18 attempts. Maue was 9 of 22 passing for 161 yards.
“Our offensive line is a young unit that’s starting to look like it’s coming together,” Harrison said. “They had their most consistent game of the year tonight. They have to keep making that kind of progress week in and week out.”
Parpet fed the Lancers a steady diet of Wilcox, who at one point in the third quarter carried the ball on nine straight offensive plays. His 6-yard run capped the Mustangs’ next drive — kept alive by a roughing-the-passer penalty on third and long — and gave Metea Valley the 21-17 lead.
Wilcox finished with 176 yards on 31 carries.
“When something is working for you, you keep going back to it, and when you have a football player like Wilcox, you’re going to keep handing him the football anyway,” Harrison said. “I wasn’t surprised they would do that, but I am surprised that we didn’t do a better job stopping it.”
Frederick completed 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. His brother, Austin Frederick, was the Mustangs’ top receiver with 71 yards on six catches, including four in the second half that converted on third or fourth down.
The Lancers are scheduled to resume action at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at O’Fallon in both teams Southwestern Conference opener.