It was a halftime ceremony honoring the 1979 Mascoutah Class 3A state champion football team that got the 2019 Mascoutah Indians inspired Friday night against Mississippi Valley Conference foe Highland.
Standout Mascoutah running back Devin Wills and his Indians teammates got to shake hands with the 1979 team at the end of the first half. Wills and the Indians came out inspired from that meeting in the final 24 minutes as he erupted for three touchdowns and the Indians held on for a 36-33 win in the conference opener for both teams at Mascoutah High School.
Wills was all smiles after helping his team beat Highland for the first time since 2011.
“It feels amazing (to beat them),” Wills said. “It’s been the rivalry for I don’t know how many years, and it just feels good to get back at them and make up for all these years.”
Highland (1-3, 0-1) jumped to a 12-0 lead behind a 7-yard touchdown run from quarterback Brent Wuebbels and a 20-yard touchdown run from running back Logan Chandler.
“It’s probably my fault, and I probably gave them a little too much credit and we didn’t have enough people in the box at the beginning of the game,” Mascoutah coach Josh Lee said. “We switched that around and obviously it made a huge difference with the way we played defensively.”
A 23-yard touchdown run by Connor Sands helped extend the Bulldogs lead to 19-7 with 6:59 left in the second quarter. But the Indians responded as quarterback Devon Ross connected with Timothy Middleton on a 19-yard scoring pass, cutting the margin to 19-14 at halftime.
After the Indians met the 1979 Mascotuah state champion club on the field and watched a video of the championship season, Wills and Co. went to work.
Wills capped the opening drive of the third quarter with a dazzling 47-yard touchdown run and then ran in the two-point conversion, giving Mascoutah (3-1, 1-0) a 22-19 lead with 9:53 left.
“It takes me a minute to adjust (to the defense), but once I figured what they were doing, I just did what I had to do,” Wills said.
Mascoutah continued to pound the run game with Wills doing the damage, as he added a pair of back-breaking 9-yard touchdown runs, pushing the lead to 36-19 with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter. Overall, Willis rolled up 199 yards rushing on 33 carries.
“Halftime really woke us up,” Wills said. “We knew we could keep up with them and we knew we could beat them. We have all the talent, and we’ve just got to believe in ourselves.”
Bulldogs rally late
Highland scored twice in the final four minutes as Sands scored on a 9-yard run and then hauled in a 7-yard pass from Chandler with 11 seconds left. Chandler connected with Eli Jones on the two-point pass to make it 36-33.
Mascoutah, however, recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran the clock out.
Chandler finished with 95 yards rushing on 17 carries but was held scoreless after his first-quarter touchdown by the Indians defense led by Andrew Schultz, Christian Harms and James Hanner. Schultz paced the Indians defense with eight tackles, Harms had five tackles and Hanner had four stops.
“They (Mascoutah) were physical upfront, and we knew if we were going to win this game we had to win in the trenches and I felt in the first half we did and in the second half we didn’t,” Highland coach Jimmy Warneke said. “We were banged up tonight and we knew that was something they were going to do. But we just fatigued in the second half and we lost focus ... you’ve got to do the little things to win.”
Both teams resume MVC action at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, as the Indians visit Civic Memorial and the Bulldogs host Waterloo.