The Althoff Crusaders refused to roll over Friday night against the Mount Vernon Rams.
Quarterback Will Ache connected with Jason Blackmon on a 5-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score as Althoff opened South Seven Conference play with a 48-42 win.
Searching for its first victory this season after dropping games to powerhouse programs Elmhurst IC, St. Louis Vianney and Mater Dei, Althoff (1-3, 1-0) trailed 21-0 with just over three minutes left in the first quarter and 35-28 early in the second half following a 59-yard touchdown pass from Rams quarterback Hunter Simmons to Evan Leake.
But each time, the Crusaders responded and when Ache found Blackmon in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter, Althoff had the lead for good.
“It’s nice to get the first win of the season. I think we felt like we let one slip away in week two against Vianney, and the kids didn’t want to let that happen again,” Crusaders coach Ken Turner said. “I was proud of how we battled back ... falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, these kids showed me how tough I knew they were all along.”
Mount Vernon (0-1, 0-4) was led by the Simmons-Leake combination. Simmons connected with Leake on scoring plays of 46 and 32 yards in the first 6:21 of the game to give the Rams a 14-0 lead.
Just 22 seconds after the second scoring play, Simmons, playing defensive back, intercepted an Ache pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown for a 21-0 bulge.
“We knew from last year that he (Leake) was an excellent football player. He’s got a lot of speed, and we felt that he was one of the players we needed to focus on,” Turner said. “We also turned the football over a few times which didn’t help our cause any.”
Althoff had four turnovers, including three fumbles. Three of those miscues helped lead to 21 Mount Vernon points.
While Mount Vernon dominated the first quarter, Althoff had its way in the second period. Ache capped a 65-yard drive with a 2-yard run with 11:39 left in the opening half to put the Crusaders on the scoreboard. Less than two minutes later, he connected with Nick Alberico on a touchdown pass to cut the Crusaders deficit to 21-14.
Crusaders running back Curtis Sharp then scored on runs of 8 and 24 yards late in the first half to gave Althoff its first lead of the night at 28-21.
Sharp ran for 109 yards in the first half.
Althoff’s D’Shawn Williams added scoring runs of 13 and 1 yards in the third quarter which ended with the scored tied at 42 before the Crusaders defense took over.
Midway through the fourth quarter with Mount Vernon buried deep in its own territory, Leake, who had a punt blocked by the Crusaders special teams, had another one of his punts go off the back of a teammate and into the hands of an Althoff player who returned it inside the 20-yard line
Six plays later Ache connected with Blackmon on the winning touchdown pass.
“I haven’t been in a game like this before. It was almost like a video game, up and down the field,” Turner said. “Our defense really stepped up in the fourth quarter and made big plays.
“The goal is to keep working hard and get better each week. We just have to correct our mistakes and come out next week and hopefully get another win.’’
Althoff resumes action at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at home against Centralia in another conference game.