Belleville East had Jefferson City right where it wanted at halftime. The Lancers led 14-7 and had controlled the game on the ground.
But Jefferson City's defense had other ideas in the second half. The Jays held the Lancers to just 23 yards of offense in the second half and rallied for a 22-14 victory Friday night at Adkins Stadium.
"Our kids got hit in the mouth and came back in the second half and decided that they were going to go to work and keep working," Jefferson City head coach Ted LePage said.
The Lancers had just one first down in the second half.
The Jays outscored the Lancers 13-0 in the third quarter and used a safety in the final minutes to seal the game.
"They got the opening kickoff (of the second half) and took it right down on us and we just were out of position on a few plays," Belleville East head coach Tim Funk said. "You've just got to give them credit. It's a good football team and they put you in tough spots and tough positions."
The Jays set the tone for the second half on their opening possession. Down 14-7, Rayshawn Williams returned the opening kick of the second half to the Belleville East 45-yard line. Six plays later Gabe Marcantonio connected with Dan Ellinger on a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 14.
The rest of the offense came from sophomore kicker J.T. Bohlken. He made 29- and 26-yard field goals in the third quarter to give Jefferson City a 20-14 lead.
Even with Belleville East's offense unable to move the ball in the second half, the Lancers only trailed 20-14 and had a chance to drive for the winning score with slightly more than three minutes left.
That's when a Jefferson City punt by Marcantonio appeared to be in the end zone for a touchback, as a Jay touched it with his foot on the line.
But the rule in high school football says as long as the ball does not cross the line, a player can be in the end zone to down the ball.
Instead of having the ball at the 20-yard line, Belleville East had to go 99 yards.
Two plays later, a fumble went out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Jefferson City then ran the clock out after picking up one first down on its next possession.
LePage said he was aware of the rule, Funk said he was not.
"The ball wasn't in the end zone but the player was," Funk said. "We looked it up and the official is correct. But the problem I guess I have is that for the last 11 years as Belleville East head coach, we've got that called against us."
Marcantonio finished with a pair of touchdown passes to Ellinger, as well as 76 yards rushing. Elijah Pittman added 125 yards on the ground as the Jays outgained the Lancers 347-211. Ellinger added six catches.
Darryl Williams added an interception for the Jays, who are 2-0 and play again Friday at Fayetteville, Ark.
"We physically went out and dominated the second half," LePage said.
Correction: Due to a reporter's error, the original version of this article incorrectly reported Dan Ellinger's first name. The text above has since been corrected.