Things were rocky for the Granite City Warriors in Southwestern Conference play in 2014.
The Warriors lost all seven of their conference games by an average margin of 34.5 points. Granite City gave up 30 points or more five times and was shut out in three of those contests.
This year, the Warriors hope to turn things around in league play. Granite City starts its league season at 7 p.m. Friday against the Belleville East Lancers at home and will take a 2-0 record into that contest. It’s the first time GCHS has been 2-0 to start the season since 2011.
Granite City coach Carl Luehmann said the conference will be very competitive again this year. A year ago, Edwardsville won the league championship at 7-0 and went on to compete in the state playoffs for the fourth straight year. Belleville East, Belleville West and East St. Louis also clinched playoff spots.
“It’s always tough, but I don’t think it’s as tough as it was last year,” Luehmann said. “Edwardsville lost some key players and East St. Louis lost its No. 1 player in the country in (Terry) Beckner. But they’re always tough. I don’t think it’s going to be as strong as last year, but it’s always strong. Every conference game is a dogfight between each other. We beat up each other and each conference team gets better playing each other for the playoffs. That’s what you’re playing for.”
Granite City also has home conference games against Collinsville (Sept. 25), Belleville West (Oct. 16) and Edwardsville (Oct. 23).
Also on Friday, Collinsville plays at Edwardsville, East St. Louis plays at Alton and O’Fallon travels to Belleville West.
The Warriors will take a 12-game conference losing streak into their game with the Lancers. They haven’t won a league game since edging Collinsville 21-20 in their fifth week of the 2013 season.
Last year’s meeting with the Kahoks was the only time in conference play the Warriors didn’t lose by double digits. Granite City lost to Collinsville 28-27 at home.
On Friday, the Warriors will be playing a Belleville East team that has a new coach in Kris Stephens and has several returning players, including seniors Isaiah King and DeWayne Hill. In 2014, King earned second-team all-conference honors at wide receiver after finishing with 34 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns and Hill was named first-team all-conference defensive lineman after finishing with 43 tackles and four quarterback sacks.
Last year, Belleville East beat the Warriors for the seventh year in a row with a 34-12 win. The Lancers went on to qualify for the state playoffs for the ninth time in 11 seasons and finished 5-5.
Belleville East also finished fourth in the conference standings at 4-3. Besides Granite City, the Lancers also beat Collinsville, Belleville West and O’Fallon in league play. They also had 11 players on the all-conference team.
In 2014, Granite City began its conference season with a 41-0 loss to Belleville West. The Warriors were outscored 307-66 in conference games.
Granite City had three players named to the all-conference team last fall, two of them returned this year — seniors Caleb Venne and Darrion Flemons. Venne was second-team offensive lineman and third-team defensive lineman and Flemons was third-team wide receiver.
The Warriors own a 49-30 victory over Jersey in Week 1 and a 29-28 win over Riverview Gardens in Week 2 in two nonconference games to start the season.