While the Althoff offense keeps getting a lot of attention, the Crusaders’ defense is quickly becoming a disruptive force all by itself.
Senior Jaylon Bester ran for three touchdowns and 168 yards Saturday in Althoff’s 51-20 victory over Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias at the Gateway Scholars Football Classic, but defense and special teams also came up big.
Noseguard Devyn Nash (5-foot-9, 330 pounds) recovered a fumble that led to a touchdown for the Crusaders (2-0), while Stephon Belt snared a tipped punt and returned it for another TD. Althoff senior Jordan Goodwin blocked two punts, including the one late in the third quarter grabbed by Althoff defensive tackle Christian Wills (6-1, 264) with one hand before Wills rambled 12 yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown.
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“I was happy that he scored because I know he always wants to score,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said of Wills, who has several Division I scholarship offers. “That was a very athletic play that he made, so I’m quite sure I’m going to hear about it for like the next three years. It was a great play.”
The elusive Bester, who broke loose on a 66-yard TD run early in the game, also gave props to his defense on the state’s top-ranked Class 4A team.
“My defense is amazing, man,” Bester said. “They had great special teams plays, with Christian and Stephon running blocked punts in for the touchdowns. They had amazing stops, forced punts ... they just did a great job overall.”
That was a very athletic play that he made, so I’m quite sure I’m going to hear about it for like the next three years. It was a great play.
Althoff coach Ken Turner on the blocked punt return for a TD by Christian Wills
So did Bester, a Miami (Ohio) recruit who has been breaking off big plays since enrolling at Althoff.
“I’ve been saying it since he’s been a freshman,” Turner said. “Nothing he does shocks me (with) his quickness, his speed. That’s why the schools that are after him are after him. He’s a small guy, but his ability to run the football ... he’s got strength that people don’t give him credit for.
“I’m not shocked at anything he does, he’s just a really good football player. I’ve got a few more games with him so I’m enjoying it.”
It wasn’t an enjoyable afternoon for Helias (1-2), which fell behind 24-0 late in the first half and never recovered.
Nash’s fumble recover late in the first quarter lead to a 12-yard TD pass from Trey Mosley to Edwyn Brown. Justin Strong added an interception for Althoff before the first half ended, then scored on an 8-yard TD run.
Bester added two more TD runs in the third quarter sandwiched around Belt’s blocked punt return. Mosley was 17-for-28 passing for 208 yards and one TD.
Helias scored on a 47-yard run by Kaleb Davis late in the first half, a 49-yard TD pass to Dalton Weaver and a 63-yard run late by quarterback Chandler Luebbert.
The Crusaders from Missouri simply couldn’t match the offensive weaponry of the Crusaders from Illinois.
“When you play a team like that you just have to be consistent,” Helias coach Tim Rulo said. “That’s the only way you’re going to be able to stop them because of that ability and the athletes that they have. Hats off to Althoff, they’re a great team.”
Althoff getting an early lead against the ground-based option attack of Helias was a perfect recipe, according to Turner.
“We expect our defense to be pretty good, we’ve got a lot of guys back and they’re hungry for this year,” he said. “We figured we’d get a couple (TD) lead and let our defense pin their ears back, then we’d be OK.”
Several players talked about the electric atmosphere at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis. A huge crowd that kept building as the East St. Louis CBC game approached jammed all parking lots and roads around the facility.
“Actually this is one place I always wanted to play in during my high school career,” Bester said. “I finally got to play here today. I feel like I did a pretty good job today along with my fellow teammates.”