September 24, 1999.
That Friday started out as a regular day but the next 24 hours would be an emotional one for students at Chester High School, members of the Yellow Jacket varsity football team and residents of the City of Chester.
In the early morning hours of September 24, 1999, word spread quickly through the sleepy little river town that a member of the Class of 2000 was killed in an early morning accident in Springfield, IL. Elizabeth Renfroe died from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Her death rocked Chester High School on what was suppose to be an exciting day.
Paying tribute to their fallen classmate later that night, the Chester Yellow Jacket varsity football team accomplished a feat that football fans in Chester still refer to as simply…"The Drive."
Heading into the football game that night against Al Martin's Du Quoin Indians, Chester hadn't beaten the neighbors to the East since 1981 and if the first half was any indication, the losing streak was about to extend to 18 games.
Chester trailed the state-ranked Indians 12-0 at halftime and finally got on the board late in the third quarter to cut the lead to 12-7.
After the Orange Crush defense held on Du Quoin's next series, the Yellow Jackets took over at their own five-yard line with 10:08 left in the game. History, at least in these parts of football nostalgia, was about to take place.
With their backs against the south wall at W.O. Smith Field, the Yellow Jackets embarked on a 20-play, 95-yard drive which chewed almost nine minutes off the clock.
Todd Cowan started the drive with a three yard run followed by a 10-yard run from Jeremy Blechle which gave Chester a first down at the 18 yard line.
Blechle reeled off another seven yard run followed by a two yard run from Cowan. Matt Seymour kept the drive alive with a one yard carry on third down. Chester was marching and the ball was now spotted at the Yellow Jackets' 28 yard line.
On first down, Cowan picked up five yards. Blechle scrambled for four and Seymour did it again, a one yard, hard-fought carry to the 38 and another Yellow Jacket first down.
Some Yellow Jacket fans were still in doubt I'm sure. Going 95 yards for a score against a football team wasn't easy, especially against Du Quoin. Any other team in Chester's shoes that night and the punt team would've been standing next to the coach.
Dennis Roth didn't want them around. His team was determined.
On first down from their 38, Cowan was stopped cold in his tracks. Blechle then picked up three yards, up to the Chester 41.
On third down, Matt "Doc" Davitz's pass was intercepted but a pass interference call against the Indians kept the drive alive and moved the ball into Indian territory.
From the Du Quoin 44, Doc scrambles for two, Cowan picks up three and Blechle gains four, down to the Du Quoin 35 yard line. Now it's fourth down and decision time for Coach Roth. Still, no sign of the punt team and we're down to 3:20 to play.
Roth challenges the Rat Pack up front to get the first down and they deliver. Matt Seymour picks up three and the drive continues with 2:45 to play.
On first down from the Du Quoin 32, a pass to Mike Niermann was too high and incomplete but the Yellow Jackets were penalized for illegal procedure. The five yard penalty moved the ball back to the Du Quoin 37 with 2:13 to play.
Worried? The coaching staff wasn't. Give the ball to Engine #42.
Cowan picks up 17 on the next play and Chester is now at the Du Quoin 20 with 1:50 to play.
A four yard run by Seymour moves the ball to the Du Quoin 16 and by this time, everyone at W.O. Smith Field is on their feet. Hearts are racing, hands are sweating…it's now or never for the Yellow Jackets.
On second down from the Du Quoin 16, Blechle bounces to the outside and then cuts down field…to the 15…to the 10…to the 5 and down to the three yard line.
Then it happened.
On first and goal from the three, the Rat Pack pushed with all they had left and led Matt Seymour into the endzone with 1:07 to play.
The two-point conversion by Chester failed and the Yellow Jackets now led the Indians 13-12 and fans wearing the Orange and Black are beside themselves. Could it finally happen?
It almost didn't.
Du Quoin's quarterback threw a Hail Mary pass down the far sidelines that went right through the hands of the receiver. Had he caught that pass and for all intentional purposes he should have, the Indians would have escaped Chester with a win because there wasn't a black jersey within 30 yards.
Now ask any member of that Yellow Jacket football team and they will tell you, they honestly believed in divine intervention. Could their fallen classmate maybe tipped that football pass away?
One last shot for the Indians but the pass was intercepted by Zach Engel and the Yellow Jackets ran out the clock.
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Yellow Jacket football fans all rushed the field for what had to be one of the biggest celebrations in the history of the Orange and Black.
Final score - Chester 13, Du Quoin 12 and forever, that 20 play, 95-yard drive will forever be known in these parts as simply "The Drive."