It had been almost exactly two months, since their 2012 season opening win back on August 24, that anyone involved with Mehlville High School football felt like smiling about anything.
But late Friday night, as they left Suburban West Conference rival Lindbergh High School's Flyers Field, every single member of the Panther program -- every coach and every player -- was wearing a smile as wide as all outside, thanks to an immensely satisfying 14-2 Mehlville win over the Flyers.
"I'm just so happy for these kids," Mehlville head coach Eric Meyer said, after his Panthers put an end to a seven-game losing streak. "They deserve it so much. Here we are, staring at 1-8, and these kids are still out here busting their tails off, working hard and trying to get better. I'm just so proud for all of them."
And indeed he should be, as Mehlville controlled the action from the very outset, and never trailed, despite Lindbergh playing with the extra emotion of it being the Flyers' Senior Night celebration, where more than 100 LHS graduates-to-be from the football team, marching band, cheerleading and dance squads, and their parents where honored during ceremonies before the game and at halftime.
"Yeah, it was a big night for us," Lindbergh head coach Tom Beauchamp said. "It's just too bad we didn't play a little bit better, and send all these seniors off the way we wanted to."
The key play early, was a blocked punt by Mehlville, which gave the Panthers possession deep in Lindbergh territory.
Mehlville wasn't able to turn that first big play of the game into a touchdown, but it did set the Panthers up for a chip-shot field goal attempt by junior kicker Austin Massey, who easily banged home a 24-yarder to get his team on the board.
Early in the second quarter, Mehlville got another big play on a Lindbergh punt. This time, it was a shank that only went nine yards, and gave the Panthers the ball near midfield.
Mehlville then drove the ball back into Lindbergh’s red zone, sparked by a couple of first down runs by senior Josh Sitner, and once again was able to set Massey up for another field goal attempt.
And once again, Massey knocked it right through the uprights, to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
"He’s a nice weapon to have,” Meyer said. “We felt confident giving him a chance, and he gave us six good points to take the lead.”
The big play of the game though, came on Mehlville’s next possession, when junior quarterback Brendan Moore saw the entire left side of the field open up as he dropped back for a pass that was actually intended to go to his right.
The 6’1, 190-pounder didn’t even hesitate.
He broke for the open area near the left sideline, and ran completely untouched for 42 yards and a touchdown, that along with his two-point conversion run on the next play, gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead just before halftime.
"I just saw the whole side open up over there, and I just went for it,” Moore said. “It felt so good to make a big play for my team. I’m just so excited.”
The Mehlville defense did the rest, as it held the Lindbergh offense without a score all night, and stopped them cold four different times in the second half.
A scintillating, leaping interception by junior Damion Futrell ended one drive, with the Panthers denying Lindbergh on 4th down inside the 5-yard line two other times to also keep the Flyers off the board.
Lindbergh got its only points early in the fourth quarter, when the Flyer defense tackled Mehlville’s Kirkland Burton in his own end zone for a safety that made it 14-2.
But that was all the Flyers would get, as Mehlville (2-7) stopped Lindbergh (3-6) once more on 4th down, and then ran out the clock to pick up its second victory of the season.
Both clubs will now wait for an official announcement on who they will face in the first round of the district playoffs next week.
Mehlville will most likely play Eureka (7-2) next Friday night, while Lindbergh seems likely headed for a matchup against Parkway South. (Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Lindbergh High School is expected to next play Parkway South, not Oakville.)
Eureka has won seven straight, after starting the year 0-2. But Moore said he and his teammates will be ready.
"It doesn’t really matter who we face,” he said. “We know if we play real good defense like we did tonight, and make some big plays on offense, like we did tonight, then we know we’ll have a chance. We’re just looking forward to a real good week of practice and being ready to play next week.”
Score by Quarters ... 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 -- Final
Mehlville ................. 3 .. 11 .. 0 ... 0 -- 14
Lindbergh ............... 0 .... 0 ... 0 ... 2 -- 2
Mehl - Austin Massey 24 yd field goal -- 6:49 ......................................... 3-0
Mehl - Austin Massey 31 yd field goal -- 7:37 ......................................... 6-0
Mehl - Brandon Moore 42 yd run (Brandon Moore run) -- 3:10 ............ 14-0
Lind - Safety (defense tackled ballcarrier in own end zone) -- 10:38 .... 14-2