Like Illinois' other four-win teams, the Belleville West Maroons need two things need to happen in order to reach the IHSA football playoffs.
To start, they have to win their final two games. Then, they have to hope their playoff points — the total wins of their opponents — add up to enough to get them to the Class 7A field of 32.
The good news for the Maroons is that their final two games are against the bottom of the Southwestern Conference — Granite City and Alton are a combined 3-11.
West's playoff push, however, may be slowed by a rash of injuries at key positions. At running back alone, the Maroons are down to no. 5 on their depth chart.
Junior safety Jack Lanxon, who led the St. Louis region in interceptions last season and has six take-aways this year (four interceptions, two fumble recoveries), also is likely out for the year with a back injury.
"I was just telling coaches that I've never seen a team this riddled with injuries," said West head coach Cameron Pettus. "It's tough to run the gauntlet anyway — and I know we're not the only ones dealing with injuries — but the Southwestern Conference is so physical. We're really banged up.
"The kids have been tough all year and keep playing through it. I have to give them a lot of credit."
Playoff points might be an issue as well.
The Maroons are sitting at 33 points, which through eight weeks leaves them at No. 48 in the 7A standings, 16 spots out of the playoff field. West can quickly make up that ground, however, because of the 10 four-win teams above them, nine have fewer playoff points, and of the 14 five-win teams, nine have fewer points.
On the other hand, West won't get any points out of previously state-ranked East St. Louis as long the Flyers remain grounded by a lingering teachers strike that already has forced them to forfeit three games.
All of this, of course, is beyond the Maroons' control. The bottom line, says Pettus?
"If we want any shot at the playoffs, these two games are crucial," Pettus said.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Belleville West (3-4) at Granite City (2-5), Friday at 7 p.m.
LAST MEETING: West defeated Granite City 41-0 in Week 3 last season.
Scouting Belleville West
Starting linebacker Nick Foster, who has 35 tackles and leads the team with three sacks, will also get the start at running back Friday. He stands in for Kris Davis, Paris Johnson, Turon Johnson and Sherond Boyd, who are all out with injuries.
Foster has carried 25 times for 106 yards and four touchdowns playing both ways.
The offense, which averages 21 points per game, is led by sophomore quarterback Logan Betz (84-of-163, 1,121 yards, 5 TD, 9 Int) and his favorite targets TeAntez Anthony (27 catch, 458 yards, 3 TD), and Jarrell Anderson (28 catch, 364 yards, TD).
Defensively, West allows an average of 22 points per game.
Scouting Granite City
The Warriors started the season 2-0 with wins over Jerseyville and Riverview Gardens, but they've dropped five straight since.
They’re not without their athletes, though. Quarterback Gabe Jarman (59-of-126, 671 yards, 5 TD, 10 Int./100 rush, 442 yards, 4 TD) is a double threat and the leader of the offense. Brandon Bettag (39 rush, 192 yards, 3 TD) is Granite City’s top ball carrier and Kyle Thompson (21 catches, 303 yards, 2 TD) is its top receiver.
Thompson also ranks among conference leaders with 54 tackles at linebacker.