EAST ST. LOUIS — Bill Jackson simply wouldn't sit down.
The Cardinal Ritter junior running back was in a zone on the bus ride over to East St. Louis High for Saturday's showdown against Lutheran North.
"He was screaming, yelling, jumping all over the place," said Ritter sophomore defensive back Ahmad Robinson. "I mean, he was fired up."
Jackson took that energy to the field.
The 5-foot-10, 196-pounder rushed for 147 yards, including a tone-setting 74-yard scoring gallop early in the first quarter, to kick-start the Lions to a 27-13 win in the Gateway Scholars Classic at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
Ritter (2-0) turned in its second-successive eye-popping performance after posting a 32-21 road win over Illinois Class 7A state champion Nazarath Academy on opening weekend.
Most importantly, the Lions struck first blood in the battle of the top Class 2 teams in the state.
The rivals are likely to meet again in the Class 2 District 2 tournament toward the end of the season.
For now, Ritter has a leg up, thanks in part to an inspired performance by Jackson.
Jackson came out with a major point to prove. He was suspended for the curtain-raiser after getting ejected from the Class 3 state title game last season — a 45-19 loss to Trinity.
"A misunderstanding," Jackson said.
Acutally, Jackson lost his cool in the waning stages of that contest.
But the one-game suspension, per the Missouri State High School Activities Association rules, did Jackson a world of good.
"Watching last week, it wasn't fun at all," Jackson said. "It gave me a spark."
Ritter coach Brandon Gregory moved Jackson into the feature back role because of his hard work in practice leading up to the contest.
"He earned it, he deserved it," Gregory said. "It was his time to show he could play ball."
Jackson did just that with a career-defining performance.
His scintillating first-quarter gallop got the Lions started on the right foot. He cut to the right and then zipped toward the middle of the field before a trio of blocks set him free along the left sideline.
"There was room and I just took it," Jackson said.
The play put the Crusaders (1-1) on their heels. Just over five minutes later, Robinson turned in the defensive play of the night when he scooped up a fumble and ran 36 yards for a score that put his team up 13-0 after just 9 minutes and 7 seconds. Dorian Stone applied the crunching hit that jarred the ball loose.
Robinson, a transfer from Miller Career Academy, led a defensive charge that threw a blanket over the Crusaders most of the night. Joe Moore and Sam Keeper also came up with big plays.
"The defense is the heart of this team," Robinson said.
Robinson became the first Ritter player to wear both the turnover belt and the touchdown chain after the same play.
The in-game honor, which means the word to the players, was started at the beginning of the season. Robinson proudly displayed his hardware running up and down the sidelines after the score.
Ritter pushed the lead to 21-0 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mekhi Hagens to wideout Luther Burden with just 5 seconds left in the half.
Lutheran North managed just 14 yards on 30 plays from scrimmage over its first eight possessions stretching into the fourth quarter.
The Crusaders battled back on a 33-yard strike from Jordan Smith to Jerrell Carter midway through the third. Ali Wells trimmed the deficit to 21-13 on a 2-yard run on fourth down with 9:41 left in the contest.
But Hagens silenced the rally with a 44-yard TD toss to TJ Atkins just over five minutes later.
"Too little, too late," North coach Carl Reed said. "We just came out pretty flat."