After the Granite City Warriors pulled off a 41-27 win over the Alton Redbirds on Oct. 7 at Kevin Greene Field, the players were about to have a post-game meeting when a large group of fans ran onto the field to celebrate the homecoming victory.
“When I saw them coming, my adrenaline hit me and I had a big ol’ smile from ear to ear,” Granite City senior offensive lineman Ryan Earney said. “It was awesome.”
Granite City football fans hope to have another reason to celebrate within the next couple of weeks. The Warriors are attempting to clinch their first playoff berth since 2011 and just their second in 10 seasons.
“It will honestly change my life,” Earney said of possibly qualifying for the playoffs.
Granite City is 4-3 overall and 3-2 in Southwestern Conference play with road games against Belleville West and Edwardsville left in their regular season schedule.
“We’ve got the mindset that every team is beatable, but we have to play them our best,” said Granite City senior Kendrick Williba, who returned on Friday after missing three games because of a hip injury. “Coaches have been on us every week. If we miss a practice, that hurts our team on the field. We need everybody there to beat them and once we’re mentally strong, we can beat any team we want.”
The Warriors play the Maroons at 7 p.m. Friday. Belleville West is 3-4 overall and 3-2 in conference play. Granite City wraps up its regular season on Oct. 21 at Edwardsville.
With the win over Alton, the Warriors have doubled their win total of two from the 2015 season. Granite City also picked up victories over Carbondale, Belleville East and Collinsville.
“We knew we had some surprise players coming back and we knew with a lot of work and effort, we had a chance to make the playoffs,” Granite City coach Carl Luehmann said. “I think we’re still in the run for the playoffs. We want to take it one game at a time.”
The Warriors outscored Alton 20-6 in the second half to pull off their latest win.
“We went into halftime and we realized what we had to do,” Earney said. “Our coaches talked to us real nice about it. We came out and we put it on them.”
Freshman Freddie Edwards finished with 267 yards rushing with three touchdowns, sophomore Richard Graham rushed for 117 yards on 16 carries with a TD, Williba scored a pair of touchdowns and Kyle Thompson finished with six tackles.
Edwards, Graham, Williba and Thompson are among the key players in the Warriors’ successful season.
Williba has rushed for 223 yards, thrown for 472 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He was the Warriors’ starting quarterback for the first three weeks before injuring his hip against Belleville East and missed three weeks.
“It hurt, but as I was on the sidelines, I was still with my team because our freshman quarterback (Edwards) is playing amazing this year,” Williba said. “I coach him up and let him know that you have to do this and that.”
Edwards has rushed for 963 yards and caught for 141 with a team-high 17 TDs. He took over quarterback duties on Sept. 16 against East St. Louis.
“Freddie stepped up when we needed him, made some big plays and he’s been working hard,” Granite City senior defensive back Trevor Corey said. “He had a big spot to fill when Kendrick went down and he did it well.”
Graham has rushed for 252 yards with four TDs and Thompson has a team-high 36 tackles.
The Warriors also have been getting a strong effort from their offensive line of Earney, Stephen Jenkins, TaMojia Johnson and Owen Roethemeyer. They helped Granite City record almost 2,500 yards of offense.
“Our run game is phenomenal,” Earney said. “It’s a big difference from last year.”
The Warriors began their season on a down note, blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and losing to Jersey 39-35 on the road.
“In Jerseyville, we weren’t mentally strong,” Williba said. “We came in there thinking, ‘We’re going to beat them, no matter what.’”
Then, Granite City bounced back with back-to-back Saturday night wins over Carbondale (33-14) and Belleville East (63-49). The Warriors also beat Collinsville 34-18.
On Friday, Granite City played its third and final home game. The Warriors lost their first two home games to East St. Louis and O’Fallon.
Corey said he was thrilled that his team won on homecoming weekend.
“It’s great,” said Corey, one of seven Granite City athletes on the homecoming court. “In my whole four years of high school football, we never had anything like that. We haven’t won a homecoming game and I don’t think I have seen anything like that in middle school. It’s a great feeling and it’s awesome and it’s something new to all of us.”
The Warriors snapped a 19-game conference losing streak with the win over Belleville East a month ago. Now, Granite City is a victory away from its first winning season in conference play since 2011.