By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2015 - 10:30 pm

FootballBLOOMINGTON – Weather and seven lead changes added drama to the final regular season game between visiting Normal Community West High School when they took on Bloomington High School at Fred Carlton Field on Oct. 23. That was on top of the game being the career finale for BHS head coach Rigo Smelzer.

Add to that mix four touchdowns by Normal West senior running back Dajour Forrest plus two more rushing scores from senior quarterback Mitch Fairfield for the Wildcats en route to a 52-34 Big 12 Conference victory for head coach Darren Hess’ crew to close out the regular season with a 6-3 mark. As a result, the Wildcats were seeded 10th in Illinois High School Association Class 6A will visit 7th seed Peoria Notre Dame this weekend.

That will be a rematch of a game in Peoria on Oct. 2, where PND edged out the Wildcats, 56-52.

As a result of this victory against BHS, Normal West and PND will share the Big 12 Conference title for the season.

Normal West (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) scored first on their opening drive when Forrest ran for a three yard score, capping a 9 play, 70 yard drive, at 8:41 in the first quarter, followed by senior kicker Tim O’Brien’s extra point, putting the Wildcats up, 7-0. BHS (2-7, 2-4 Big 12) replied on the ensuing kickoff, thanks to 74 yard kickoff return touchdown by junior running back Cary Lockhart, followed by an extra point from senior kicker Drew Humprey, knotting the game quickly at 7-7.

A 28 yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Tyler Stewart to senior wide receiver Brent Finley put BHS in front, 14-7, following another Humprey extra point at the 5:36 mark in the opening quarter. West’s next drive began at their own 42 but was halted by BHS defenders after the Wildcats had marched to the Purple Raiders’ 8 yard line, prompting West to call in O’Brien for a successful 25 yard field goal. That cut BHS’ lead, 14-10 at the 3:06 mark.

Normal West FootballBoth teams entered into the second quarter with that score before Fairfield would connect with Forrest on a 36 yard touchdown pass at the 9:11 mark, putting West up, 17-14, following O’Brien’s extra point. BHS responded on their very next possession using a little deception with a 51 yard scoring pass from senior running back Telly Arrington, who threw to senior receiver Michael Buob at 9:20 in the quarter. Humprey’s next extra point, would push BHS back in front, 21-17, at halftime, and BHS would get the ball at the start of the third quarter.

Keeping the ball, however, was another matter for the Purple Raiders, who had to punt after five downs following the kickoff, only getting 18 yards, to midfield. But the punt attempt was botched by a bad snap, sending the ball rolling deep into Bloomington territory, allowing West to begin their first series of downs in the second half from the Purple Raiders’ 21 yard line. Three plays later, Fairfield connected with senior wide receiver Jack Coakley from 24 yards out for the Wildcats’ next score, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point, sending the visitors back in the lead, 24-21.

Each team would have the ball for a series of downs each with no result before senior running back Jaylen Hayes would score from one yard out, capping a 9 play, 57 yard drive for BHS, pushing the Purple Raiders in front, 28-24, at 4:14 in the third quarter following another Humprey extra point. Following the ensuing kickoff, West would begin from midfield and six plays later, Forrest would score from 13 yards out with 1:09 left in the quarter, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point, pushing the Wildcats back in front, 31-28.

BHS responded in their ensuing drive, scoring in four plays, topped by a 52 yard touchdown run from junior running back Domeneik Criddell, followed by Humprey’s extra point. That pushed BHS back in front, 34-31, closing out the third quarter.

But when the fourth quarter started, no one knew Criddell would have scored for the last time this season. West went on a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter, starting with a 1-yard touchdown run by Fairfield with 11:14 left in the contest, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point. That capped a 7 play, 71 yard drive, putting West back in front, 38-34.

BHS FootballBHS would get the ball back on the ensuing kickoff and would start at their own 35, but a fumbled handoff would give the Wildcats back the ball back at BHS’ 29 with 10:29 left in the game. Three plays later, Fairfield would rush in for his second touchdown of the night, from five yards out, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 45-34, following O’Brien’s extra point.

Forrest would star in a second 13 yard touchdown run play, capping a 6 play, 50 yard drive by West, followed by another O’Brien extra point, extending West’s advantage, 52-34. Forest would also score from 61 yards out at the 5:01 mark in the quarter, followed by O’Brien’s last extra point of the night, resulting in the final score.

West senior wide receiver Dante Ruffin was injured during the contest’s second half and did not return. Hess had praise for Forrest, who stepped in to fill that gap. “Dajour was definitely ready for the challenge in that second half,” Hess said, adding he had spent the week leading up to the game informing his players about BHS’ football tradition, to give them some perspective on the contest.

“We were in for a war for about three quarters until we decided it,” Hess said. “I felt like we played like we practiced this week. I’m really proud of our kids and how they responded.”

“We felt that, with a push in the line, we could have an opportunity to move the ball,” Smelzer said. “I’m disappointed in not being able to get Normal West backed off.”

Forrest had 27 carries for 285 yards, leading all rushers, while Fairfield had 11 carries for 106 yards for West. Fairfield was 10-for-20 passing for 154 yards. Senior tight end Mace Julian caught 4 passes for 29 yards, while Ruffin caught two passes for 48 yards.

Stewart only threw two passes totaling 15 yards, and the team’s leading rusher was Buob with 51 yards.

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