Belleville West head football coach Cameron Pettus arrived in Bloomington for a neutral-turf game with Lincoln-Way East thinking his team matched up well with the Griffins.
He left thinking his Maroons probably had just faced the eventual Illinois Class 8A champion.
Behind a fast and deep defense and a two-headed monster at quarterback, the Lincoln-Way East dominated the Maroons 35-0 at Illinois Weslyan University on Friday.
“They put their second string defense in there and they looked un-Godly,” Pettus said. “They’ve got some depth over there, that’s for sure. If they don’t win the state championship this year, something will have gone severely awry.”
East finished last season 8-3, but merged in players from rival Lincoln-Way North, which was closed in July.
“We liked the players we would have had before the merge,” said Lincoln-Way East caoch Rob Zvonar. “But when you gain players, you gain quality depth. It was bittersweet, but it definitely benefited the program.”
The Griffins inherited quarterback Jake Arthur, who led North an 11-1 record and state quarterfinal appearance in 2015. He’s now sharing time with East’s former starter Max Schafer.
The pair combined Friday for 253 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns against Belleville West, which fell to 0-2.
“In the NFL the saying is if you have two quarterbacks you have none,” Zvonar said of the unique circumstances. “In our situation, Max Schafer paid his dues in our program and all Jake Arthur did was win 11 games last year. We’re blessed to have them both and we’re going to keep using both until the situation dictates otherwise. We have no interest in picking one.”
To Pettus, the difference was the Griffins’ defense, which held the Maroons to 149 yards of total offense.
“We thought we could do what we want to do offensively, which is run the football between the tackles and set up some play action,” he said. “They always countered. If they saw us take play-action, they made sure they’d take it away next time. That’s a very good football team but, I tell you what, that defense might be the best defense I’ve ever seen in high school. I’ve been coaching 10 years and I’ve not seen defense like that.”
Lincoln-Way East, ranked No. 5 in Class 8A, has 118 players on its roster, just three of which are freshmen or sophomores. It improved to 2-0.
“It’ll be good to get back to the Southwestern Conference,” Pettus said. “It’ll be tough because it always is. But playing teams like Batavia and now Lincoln-Way East prepare us well for a hard conference schedule and, hopefully, the playoffs.”
Key Moments: Lincoln-Way’s Mason Keenan took the opening kick off 75 yards to the Maroons 16-yard line, but a sack and a holding penalty stifled the drive. But on their next possession, the Griffins went 51 yards on eight plays to take the 7-0 lead.
They took a two-score lead with 14 seconds left in the first quarter when Colton Pedersen intercepted West quarterback Logan Betz and ran it in 30 yards for a touchdown. West helped Lincoln-Way again midway through the second quarter with a high snap through the end zone for a safety to make it a 22-0 lead.
Lincoln Way scored again on the ensuing possession to make it 28-0 at halftime.
Key Performers: Lincoln Way-East had 326 yards of total offense. Jeremy Nelson had 108 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Nigel Muhammad was the Griffins’ leading rusher with 36 yards on 12 carries.
Betz finished 8-of-20 passing for 88 yards and was intercepted once. Sherand Boyd led the Maroons with 42 yards on six attempts. Jacob McCloskey’s three receptions for 32 yards led West.
Up Next: Belleville West is at O’Fallon next Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.