BELLEVILLE — Disappointed two weeks ago, when they were stunned by Centralia in the first game at the brand-new George Martz Field, the Althoff Crusaders made sure they would not come up short again.
The Althoff Crusaders made sure they would not come up short again when they got another chance, pinning a 48-21 loss on the Carbondale Terriers on field dedication and senior night Friday.
“We found it important, but not seriously enough and we came up short,” said Crusaders senior running back/defensive back Justin Strong of the 21-14 loss to the Orphans. “So to do this is very special for all of our fans, our seniors, the city of Belleville.
“We were glad we were able to go out there and make it happen.”
Strong scored three touchdowns and had three interceptions in the win.
The Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit returned two of those interceptions — covering 78 and 29 yards, respectively — for scores. His other touchdown came on a 17-yard run that put the Crusaders ahead 24-14 at halftime.
Strong also finished the game with 99 yards rushing on nine carries.
The victory locked up a seventh consecutive postseason berth for Althoff (6-1, 3-1 South Seven Conference).
“The playoffs, that’s what we work for,” said Crusaders coach Ken Turner. “We felt like we had a setback the last time we were here. We had some adversity early, but the kids responded well.
“You’re not always going to start fast, but you want to finish strong and that’s what they did tonight.”
The Terriers made it interesting for a half.
Carbondale’s Tavarais Macklin plunked an errant pitchout from the air and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-7.
After Strong’s 78-yard interception return made it 17-7, Terriers senior quarterback Seth Ousley found Shandon Scott Rivers wide open behind the Althoff defense for an 81-yard score which pulled the Terriers within 17-14.
But Strong capped the Crusaders' next possession with his 17-yard scoring run with 5:40 left in the second quarter.
That touchdown ignited a run of 31 consecutive points by the Crusaders, who dominated the second half.
“Looking at us coming off the bus and you look at the size of our kids and you see a huge difference,” said Carbondale coach Bryan Lee. “But I thought our kids rose to the challenge, they were not afraid to go hard against some people who were pretty dog-gone big ... But that’s tough to do for four quarters and they just wore us down.”
In addition to Strong’s 29-yard interception return for a TD, Althoff got second-half scores from Richard Cosey (5 yards) and Pierce Lyons (65 yards).
Cosey rushed for 125 yards on 21 carries for Althoff.
Kicker Stone Gallloway also notched his second field goal of the game, a 24-yard after making one from 42 to open the scoring.
Althoff’s first touchdown came from Xavier Williams who made a short run to the end zone following a blocked punt by Jeremiah Branson.
“We kind of did the same thing at Marion last week,” said Turner of his team’s improved play in the final two quarters. “And we feel like we are capable of doing that. We just need to make sure we do it.”
Ousley was playing quarterback for the first time since his sophomore season. Carbondale starting QB Jakeba Burleigh was suspended for a team rules violation during the week after he had led the Terriers (2-5, 1-3) to a 41-8 win at Marion last week.
He finished with 182 yards passing, but was intercepted five times.
“Seth has played quarterback for us for two days,” said Lee. “He had some interceptions, but for a guy who has only been there for a day and a half, he did a real nice job. He’s a leader and the kids like him.”
Althoff hits the road next week, when it travels to Cahokia. Carbondale is at home to host Marion.