The Belleville West Maroons and Belleville East Lancers will take to the road Friday to face state-ranked opponents on neutral fields.
West, coming off a 34-24 loss to Batavia in its season opener, will play Lincoln-Way East at 7 p.m. at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. The Griffins (1-0), whose school is located in Frankfort, are ranked second in the Class 8A state poll.
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The Lancers, who were defeated 49-7 by Chaminade in their opener, will tackle Lemont at 7 p.m. at Millikin University in Decatur. The Indians are ranked sixth in the Class 6A poll.
Maroons coach Cameron Pettus had just finished ordering 45 pizzas from Domino’s on Thursday morning. They will be waiting for his players on the bus after the game.
I’m telling you, if we win this one right here, that Domino’s will probably taste like the best deep-dish pizza from New York City or Chicago or San Francisco.
Belleville West coach Cameron Pettus said of the pizza the Maroons will have Friday after playing Lincoln-Way East
“It will be the best-tasting pizza we’ve ever had, I think, on the way home,” Pettus said, laughing. “We did have some pretty good pizza a couple of years back when we came home from Bradley (University) after winning a playoff game (24-7 over Bradley-Bourbonnais). To this day, that’s my favorite pizza memory on the bus.
“But I’m telling you, if we win this one right here, that Domino’s will probably taste like the best deep-dish pizza from New York City or Chicago or San Francisco.”
For second-year Lancers coach Kris Stephens, a trip to Decatur will bring back memories. Stephens played two years of football and four years of baseball at Millikin in the late-1990s.
I haven’t been back since graduation. ... It’s going to be really interesting to get back on campus. I’m really excited to get back up there and see what Millikin looks like.
Belleville East coach Kris Stephens on returning to his alma mater in Decatur
Frank M. Lindsay Field, where the football game will be played, had a grass surface when Stephens was at Millikin. An artificial surface was laid two years ago.
“I haven’t been back since graduation,” Stephens said. “They’ve done a lot of work up there. They’ve got turf and they knocked down the oldest boys dorm that was there, the one I stayed in. It’s going to be really interesting to get back on campus. I’m really excited to get back up there and see what Millikin looks like.”
Lemont coach Bret Kooi also played at Millikin, as did East coach assistant Todd Blomberg. Another East assistant, former Lancers head coach Tim Funk, previously served as an assistant at Millikin when Carl Poelker was in charge of the program.
Scouting Lincoln-Way East
The Griffins, who defeated South Bend (Ind.) Adams 49-12 in their season opener, have qualified for the playoffs in all 15 years of their program’s existence. They play in the Southwest Suburban Conference.
Coach Rob Svonar is 143-35 in his career and returns many of the players that helped the Griffins finish 8-3 last season, when they fell to Libertyville in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. Lincoln-Way East is in Class 8A this year after inheriting hundreds of new students from Lincoln-Way North, which closed in June.
The Maroons will leave about noon, drive a little over two hours and conduct a walk-through at Millikin, from where Pettus graduated. West will leave Millikin about when the Lancers arrive to begin preparations for their game against Lemont.
“These guys will get to see two different college campuses on one day,” Pettus said of his players. “That’s got to be a fun experience for them.”
West lost to Lincoln-Way East 35-7 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs in 2009. The Griffins scored on their first four possessions to take a 28-0 lead.
“They were good back then and they’re good now,” Pettus said. “They might be the best they’ve ever been now with the addition of the Lincoln-Way North kids to their program. They’re an absolutely loaded team. They’re very good at every position and they’ve got a lot of depth.
“The good thing for us is our kids are excited and looking forward to competing. We learned a lot in week one. We feel very confident in our team that we can do some good things, too. We think we can go up there and compete with these guys. I don’t think we’re intimidated or anything like that. We’re just excited and ready for the challenge.”
The Griffins’ best players include quarterback Jake Arthur, running backs Nigel Mohammad and Ken Anderson, offensive guard Sam Diehl and defensive end Devin O’Rourke, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 240 pounds. Diehl has committed to Colgate.
Pettus said playing Batavia, ranked third in Class 7A, helped prepare the Maroons for what they’ll see against Lincoln-Way East.
“We’re telling our guys, ‘Just do your job,’” Pettus said. “It’s going back to fundamentals. If you’re a defensive lineman, you can’t get knocked off the ball. You’ve got to maintain your gap. Linebackers have to make correct reads. Our secondary, because their guys are so talented, have to make sure they do a good job of coverage. We don’t want to give up the big play. We want to force them to drive the football on us.”
West trailed Batavia 19-3 and before its offense fired in the fourth quarter. Junior Kriston Davis did much of the damage, rushing 16 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns. Another junior, Sherond Boyd, had nine carries for 53 yards and helped block for Davis.
“Our offense has confidence and we know exactly what our identity is now,” Pettus said. “We know what we can do and what we need to do. We’ve just got to execute. We’ve had a great week of practice and our kids are dialed in.”
The Indians, members of the South Suburban Conference, got off on the right foot with a 13-7 win over Richards in their opener. They were 9-2 last season and finished runner-up to Nazareth Academy two years ago in Class 6A when they were 13-1.
Quarterback Spencer Nagel, who was 11-for-16 for 122 yards, relies on a deep group of receivers led by 6-6 tight end Logan Christopherson, a Missouri recruit, along with Steve Fleming and Bret Bolin.
Jake Kirkman and Anthony Martin lead the running attack, which operates behind a huge offensive line anchored by Trace Rakow and Nick Ostrander.
“They like to run the ball, but when they spread it out, they can throw it,” Stephens said. “The quarterback is a good athlete. When he gets into space, he can really hurt you.”
On defense, the Indians are fast and physical. Lineman Jordan Brown is an Air Force recruit. Austin Schaffert, Frank Letizia and Cal Young are linebackers, and defensive backs Brendan Cunningham and Joe Kelly are impact players.
Lemont is ranked sixth in Class 6A.
“They’re a perennial state powerhouse,” Stephens said. “They’re in the mix every year. We’re going to try to take away what they do best and make them go to their secondary options.”
Stephens said the trip will be good for the Lancers.
“At the beginning of the year, you try to get a couple of things knocked off your to-do list,” Stephens said. “You want to travel so the kids get used to that and you want to play really good competition so you kind of know where you stand going into the Southwestern Conference. You know every week is going to be a knockdown, dragout (in the league), so we want to know where we stand.”
East, led by Roderick Morgan and Freddie Waller, rushed for 149 yards against Chaminade. Kienen Waller passed for 111 yards.
“We moved the ball pretty well. We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers,” Stephens said. “We need to clean up the little things and get everybody playing together.”