ST. CHARLES — On a frozen, muddy field, Gary Strauss had a long, toe-numbing chat with his St. Charles West football team last November.
The Warriors season had come to an end with a 39-6 loss at Trinity. It was the third consecutive year St. Charles West went into the long offseason with a district runner-up plaque.
Nothing about that night sat well with the Warriors. Not their effort. Not their preparation. Not the result.
“The biggest thing was they didn't feel they gave themselves a true picture of what we are,” Strauss said. “They didn't play well early and the game got away from us. They were more disappointed about that. We talked about what we had to do to get back there.”
Any season-ending defeat is a painful one but the returning Warriors have a particular aversion to losing. The current senior class went undefeated as freshmen and sophomores. The natural order of things is to walk off the field victorious. Anything less than that is a disappointment, even on a snowy, cold night against the eventual Class 3 state champion.
“They got in the weight room immediately after the season,” Strauss said. “Once the summer hit, we had a great turnout for the weight room. They were busting their tail all summer in the heat with one goal in mind — to get back where we were and win that game and move on.”
The Warriors are chugging toward that goal, albeit not with an unbeaten record or all their personnel. St. Charles West (7-1) dropped a heartbreaker Oct. 11 at home to Cape Girardeau Central, 40-39. In a game that's almost too wild to believe, the lead changed three times in the final 62 seconds. St. Charles West grabbed the advantage with just more than a minute to play, only to see Cape Central make it 40-33 with 25 seconds remaining.
The Warriors scored a 60-yard touchdown on fourth down as time expired that made it 40-39. They went for the 2-point conversion and didn't get it.
“We were kind of depleted. We were gassed,” Strauss said. “By the end of the game we had like seven starters out. I didn't feel our best shot was to go to overtime.”
It was the first loss on senior quarterback Brendan Sportsman's resume at St. Charles West. It was the first loss the current senior class experienced as a whole and it came on a somber day. Senior running back Jamesen Reese had surgery that day for an ankle injury he sustained against Orchard Farm on Oct. 4. Before his injury, Reese rushed for 592 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. The Warriors lost senior Derrick Scruggs as well that night against Orchard Farm to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). His knee was surgically repaired last Friday.
It's not the way any of the Warriors envisioned the season going but it has inspired them nonetheless.
“Seeing them on the sideline pushes everyone to play their best all the time and go their best every, single play,” senior right guard Stephen Frazer said. “It can happen to them at any given point in time and their season can be over just like theirs.”
The healthy Warriors are playing for their teammates. The loss to Cape Central has only stoked their competitive fire.
“It was our first time losing as a team and people took it a bad way,” Sportsman said. “We're using it as a chip on our shoulder to get after the next team and move on in districts.”
Any frustration St. Charles West holds inside comes pouring out on every play. The Warriors hit hard on both sides of the ball. Their offensive identity is a power-rushing attack that spreads the ball around to several playmakers that rely on an offensive line that's physical and overpowering.
Every opponent that watches the Warriors knows they're going to run the ball. Stopping it is a completely different challenge.
“It doesn't matter that we don't throw the ball much,” senior running back Trevor Turner. “We have great linemen up front that can do what they need to do. The running backs, we can get in the open field, break tackles and go.”
St. Charles West won't have to see Trinity this year in the district tournament. The two were split up when the district pairings were released in August. That matters not to the Warriors. They're not concerned with who they might have to play. Their focus remains on claiming the first district title since 2014 for a proud program. Whoever is in their way is going to feel their fury, three years in the making.
“This year we came out in the summer working harder than we ever have before putting in the extra time we need, going hard at practice every week and showing out on Friday so we can go get that district title,” Sportsman said.
If St. Charles West reaches that goal, it won't be with everyone who began this journey on the field after that cold, snowy night at Trinity. But it will be in part because of them.
“The seniors of St. Charles West are not just a single class of football players,” Reese said. “We are the culmination of the spirit, dedication and discipline of every Warrior that has come before us. That is the Warrior way.”
PARKWAY CENTRAL STUNS PARKWAY WEST FOR MAYOR'S CUP
Parkway Central never realized how much it liked the Mayor's Cup until it was gone.
Parkway West took it.
According to longtime Parkway Central coach Mark Goldenberg, the traveling trophy was instituted about eight years ago when Parkway West's address was changed to reflect it was located in Chesterfield. The winner of the rivalry game is awarded the trophy.
Parkway Central never had to worry about losing it. It held it the first six years and won 10 games in a row over nine years against Parkway West.
Parkway West broke the streak last season and took the cup after a 39-30 victory.
“It's one of those things you take for granted until you don't have it,” Goldenberg said. “Let's get that baby back.”
Parkway Central (2-6) did just that as it scored two defensive touchdowns in the final two minutes for a 41-28 win last Thursday.
The Colts took the lead when Cam Harris scooped up a Parkway West fumble and scored a 58-yard touchdown with 1 minute and 56 seconds to play. Forty-five seconds later, Antonio Hutti rolled 55 yards for a pick-6 that secured the cup and gave the Colts their first winning streak of the season.
Parkway Central broke a six-game skid the week prior in a 42-7 win over Clayton. Goldenberg said the win against the Greyhounds proved important, especially when Parkway West opened up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
“I think it's so underrated, when you're 0-6 it feels like you're never going to win a game,” Goldenberg said.
Parkway Central battled back to take a lead in the third quarter only to see Parkway West standout Ja'Marion Wayne try to rip their heart out once again. A sophomore running back, Wayne rushed for a 79-yard touchdown that tied the game at 28 midway through the third.
Wayne had a historic night as he set the school record for most rushing yards in a game (310) and most total yards in a game (469). Wayne scored all four Longhorn touchdowns and earned Goldenberg's praise.
“He's the real deal,” Goldenberg said. “He can fly.”
But Wayne and Parkway West (5-3) will have to wait another year to try and get their hands on the Mayor's Cup.
Parkway Central wraps its regular season at Jackson. The No. 2 team in the Class 5 Missouri Media rankings, Jackson (8-0) has scored 35 or more points in every game its played. The Indians have four shutouts and have yet to allow an opponent break 19 points. The Colts are going to be battle tested when the district tournament begins the following week.
“We've played a heck of a schedule,” Goldenberg said. “It's a cool environment. It's something the kids won't forget.”
EAST ST. LOUIS ROLLS TO LEAGUE TITLE, EYES NO. 1 SEED
For the fourth consecutive season, East St. Louis is the Southwestern Conference champion.
The Flyers locked up the league title on Saturday with a 68-3 win at Belleville East.
East St. Louis wasted little time dropping the hammer on the Lancers. East Side scored 46 points in the first quarter and led 60-3 at halftime.
Junior quarterback Tyler Macon threw for 193 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for another two scores. Senior running back DaMonta Witherspoon rushed for 98 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown.
The No. 1 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings and the top-rated team in the Illinois Associated Press Class 5A poll, East St. Louis (8-0 overall, 5-0 conference) ran through the Southwestern Conference this season as it outscored the league 269-34. Edwardsville accounted for the vast majority of those points against East Side after it managed to score 21.
East St. Louis wraps the regular season on the road Friday when it travels to Naperville Central (4-4). Barring something out of the ordinary, East St. Louis will be tabbed a No. 1 seed in the Class 5A bracket.
The Illinois High School Association will release the playoff brackets for Classes 1A-8A at 8 p.m. Saturday night. The show will be broadcast locally on KPLR Channel 11 and streamed on the internet at IHSA.tv.
MCC CROSSES OVER WITH SWC
In the final week of the regular season, the area's two best football conferences will once again crossover in what has become a trend the last few years that will continue into the future.
On Friday, Southwestern Conference runner-up Edwardsville (5-2) travels to Vianney (1-7) and Belleville West (3-5) heads to CBC (6-2). Both games are set for 7 p.m.
The Metro Catholic Conference has had little luck scheduling public schools from the Missouri side of the area during the regular season. The last St. Louis-area public school to play CBC was Miller Career Academy in 2017. De Smet had played Hazelwood Central 10 consecutive years but that will end next fall.
Chaminade had Kirkwood on its schedule in 2017. That same year, Vianney had Pattonville and Vashon.
St. Louis U. High played Ladue and Vashon last season.
Next season there will be even more crossing over as De Smet has agreed to play at Edwardsville in Week 1 and then play East St. Louis in the showcase game of the Gateway Scholars Classic.
CBC has a season-opener scheduled with East St. Louis and will keep Edwardsville on its schedule for a third consecutive year.
The Southwestern Conference lost two football teams in the last three years. This season was the first Collinsville's football team played an independent schedule. Granite City withdrew from the league as a whole prior to the 2018-19 school year.
That has opened up holes in the schedule. Considering the size of most Southwestern Conference schools, it's hard to schedule non-conference games with the smaller programs in the area in Illinois. Large schools near Chicago are willing to host the Southwestern Conference programs but are often unwilling to travel to the area for a game.
LAFAYETTE'S DEFENSE TURNS UP
Donuts. Goose eggs. Bagels.
Call them what you want, Lafayette has three of them in its last three wins. The Lancers beat Lindbergh 17-0 Friday to give them three consecutive shutout victories. It started with a 47-0 win over Parkway South (0-8) then followed with a 41-0 victory against Parkway North (2-6).
Parkway South and Parkway North have had their share of struggles this season. Parkway South's coach resigned earlier this season. Parkway North is in its first season under coach Karl Odenwald.
Lindbergh (3-5), however, had not been shutout this season despite tussling with good opponents like Eureka (7-1) and Marquette (7-1).
To put into perspective how hard it has been for the Lancers to keep their opponent off the scoreboard, consider they had four shutouts the last four seasons combined.
Senior linebacker Marsean Fisher leads the Lancers with seven sacks. Sophomore defensive lineman Tommy Hagan has five sacks and 64 tackles. Senior defensive back Antonio Cooper has three of Lafayette's 10 interceptions.
Lafayette (7-1) hosts rival Marquette (7-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner can lock down the No. 2 seed in the Class 6 District 3 tournament and earn home field advantage for its first two games.
Joplin (8-0) is the top seed and should it beat Carl Junction (4-4) on Friday would have home-field advantage throughout the district tournament.
RIVALRY GAMES THIS WEEK
Kirkwood at Ladue
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Streak: Ladue won last year's meeting, the first between the schools since 1999.
Note: Kirkwood's Lyons Memorial Field served as Ladue's home field the last two years while its campus was under construction.
Lutheran North at Chaminade
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Streak: Lutheran North won last year's meeting, 40-0.
Note: Chaminade (6-2) has matched its win total from last season when it went 6-6.
Ritenour at Pattonville
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Streak: Pattonville has won two in a row but Ritenour took five of the last eight.
Note: Both teams are 1-7 entering the final game of the regular season.
Fox at Northwest–Cedar Hill
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Streak: Fox has won 13 in a row over Northwest.
Note: Fox senior Brock Inman plays quarterback, defensive back, punter and kicks the extra points for the Warriors.
Webster Groves at Summit
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Streak: Summit has won two in a row and three of the last four.
Note: Webster Groves is coming off its bye week that allows it to play the Turkey Day Game with Kirkwood.
St. Dominic at Priory
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Streak: Split last season's two games.
Note: St. Dominic won the regular-season meeting before Priory won the rematch a week later in the first round of districts.
Hazelwood Central at McCluer North
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Streak: Hazelwood Central has won eight in a row and nine of the last 10.
Note: Hazelwood Central (3-5) defeated Ritenour and Riverview Gardens for their first winning streak of the season.
• Rockhurst didn't let this one get away. In longtime coach Tony Severino's final regular-season home game, Rockhurst beat CBC for the first time, 31-14.
CBC (6-2) beat Rockhurst (5-3) for Class 6 state championships in 2014 and 2018. The Cadets had won the previous five meetings with the Hawklets. It was Severino's first win over CBC in his 37 years at Rockhurst.
CBC back up quarterback Patrick Heitert had his most extensive playing time of the season against Rockhurst. The sophomore signal caller completed 10 of 17 passes for 115 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted once. He rushed for a season-high 40 yards on 12 attempts as well.
Sophomore starting quarterback Ayden Robinson-Wayne completed 8 of 17 passes for 87 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted once. Robinson-Wayne rushed for 28 yards on seven carries. It was the fewest completions and fewest passing yards for Robinson-Wayne this season.
• Two struggling programs have a chance to end their season on a high note. Grandview (1-7) plays at Crystal City (0-8) at 7 p.m. Friday. Crystal City has been shutout six times and scored 16 total points this season.
Grandview didn't win a game in the 2016 season, shut down its varsity in 2017 due to a lack of upperclassmen and went winless in 2018.
• Lutheran St. Charles (6-2) travels to Jennings (3-5) for a 6 p.m. kickoff Thursday. Jennings has become the king of Thursday night games because that's when it has been able to schedule games under the lights.
Lutheran St. Charles beat Jennings 25-14 last season. The Cougars are looking to rebound after being shutout by St. Clair last week, 28-0. It was the first time Lutheran St. Charles has been shutout since 2017 when St. Charles West won 55-0 in a Class 3 district semifinal.