JERSEYVILLE – The Granite City Warriors will be doing a lot of traveling this year.
Out of their nine games this season, six of them are on the road.
On Friday, Granite City started its season with a road game against the Jersey Panthers and was setting its sights on beating the Panthers for the second year in a row.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they left Jerseyville with a loss.
Jersey came back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Granite City 39-35 and give Jon Adkins his first win as the Panthers’ coach. Adkins took over the Jersey program this year after coaching the last six years at Peoria Heights.
“Six years ago, when I took the coaching job at Peoria Heights, I was 23 years old and I was the youngest head coach in the state of Illinois,” Adkins said. “After tonight’s game, I feel like I’m the oldest head coach in the state of Illinois.”
Jersey junior Blake Wittman scored the game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds left in the game. His 10-yard catch gave the Panthers a 39-35 lead. He also intercepted a pass from Granite City quarterback Kendrick Williba in the closing seconds.
Wittman finished with three touchdowns.
“He’s a stud,” Adkins said. “We’re lucky enough that he’s only a junior. But the kid comes to work hard every single day. There’s a reason he’s the captain and the leader of this team and it showed tonight.”
The Warriors will look to bounce back next Friday, when they travel to Carbondale. They also play road games against Belleville East (Sept. 9), Collinsville (Sept. 23), Belleville West (Oct. 14) and Edwardsville (Oct. 21).
“It’s back to the drawing board on Monday,” Granite City coach Carl Luehmann said.
Williba scored two touchdowns, including one with 7:03 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Warriors a 35-20 lead.
“I thought Kendrick did well,” Luehmann said.
But the Warriors committed two penalties and made two turnovers the rest of the game.
“We’ve got to do a better job of preparing the kids for those extreme situations,” Luehmann said. “You hope they know about those situations, but we as a staff will do better and we’ll work hard every day to get better.”
Brandon Baalman’s 73-yard touchdown run with 6:47 remaining cut the Warriors’ lead to 35-26. Then, Jersey got the ball back after recovering a fumble on a kickoff return.
Wittman scored a 33-yard touchdown catch with 6:35 left to trim Granite City’s lead to 35-32.
On fourth and goal with 43 seconds remaining, Wittman received a 10-yard touchdown pass from junior Drew Sauerwein to give the Panthers the lead.
Freshman Freddie Edwards scored a pair of touchdowns for the Warriors. He gave Granite City a 7-0 lead on six-yard touchdown catch with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
Senior Kyle Thompson scored a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that gave the Warriors a 14-7 lead.
Adkins applauded the Warriors’ effort.
“We preached all summer long on how good Granite City is,” the Jersey coach said. “They had everybody coming back and they have so many good athletes out there. The Williba kid is a fantastic young man. He’s a great quarterback, but he’s an even better leader and I told him that at the end. Kyle Thompson is going to go off to do big things in college. Torrey Deal is an awesome athlete. They’re a fantastic ball club. Unfortunately, I don’t know how they’re going to respond from this heartbreak, which it was. I hope they keep their heads up high because they have a fantastic team and they do a lot of things very well.”
The Panthers and Warriors were tied at 14-14 at halftime. Wittman tied the game with 23.6 seconds left in the second quarter, when he recovered a Granite City fumble on a punt return and scored a 40-yard touchdown.
Williba scored an eight-yard touchdown run with 4:40 left in the third quarter to give the Warriors a 20-14 lead. Edwards’ 55-yard touchdown catch and a two-point conversion from Raheem Beckwith with 1:37 left in the period extended Granite City’s lead to 28-14.
With the Warriors leading 28-20, junior Jonathon Benitez intercepted a pass from Sauerwein at Jersey’s 10-yard line. On the next play, Williba scored a 10-yard TD run to give the Warriors the 15-point lead.