Photo by Diane Cox
Members of the 2016 East Alton-Wood River football team sing the school song for fans following a 34-0 win over Prairie State Conference rivals Metro-East Lutheran High School. The Oilers improved to 3-2 on the season and 2-1 in the conference. They are looking for their first winning season since 2006.
After last Friday’s 34-0 win over Metro-East Lutheran, the East Alton-Wood River Oilers are on their way to turning in their best season in 10 years.
The Oilers have compiled a 3-2 record with wins over MELHS, Dupo (47-0) on Aug. 26 and Bunker Hill (44-24) on Sept. 9. Taylorville defeated EA-WR 45-6 on Sept. 2 and Marquette Catholic defeated the Oilers 31-8 on Sept. 17.
They are 2-1 in Prairie State Conference play with conference wins over the Minutemen and Knights and one league loss to the rival Explorers.
EA-WR last posted a winning season in 2006 when it finished with a 6-4 mark under then-coach Gary Carter. That’s also the last time the football program qualified for the postseason. The Oilers went 1-8 last year in current coach Garry Herron’s first season.
“I’m really happy,” Herron said. “We demand a lot out of the kids over the winter and the summer. They picked it up. We put the pressure on the kids and they responded. It’s what this season is really about — the kids going out and taking what’s theirs.”
He still remembers last year’s struggles.
“I got the job late and we couldn’t get as much done in the summer as we wanted to,” Herron said. “Especially the first three or four weeks, it was just testing things out and seeing what would work. We knew what offense and defense we wanted to run; it was just putting the game together with the kids we had. In looking back at it now, there were a lot of late nights and trying to figure out how to get better. It all comes down to how hard the kids played.”
Of course Herron, a 2002 graduate of EA-WR, hopes the success will continue and he’ll lead the team to a winning season.
“It would mean a lot for the school and for the community,” he said after the win over MELHS. “When I played here, this place was packed every Friday night. That’s what we want to get back to; we want to get the kids in the school back out to the games.”
Junior Justin Englar is putting in his second year as quarterback. Englar has gone 13 of 47 through the air for 311 yards. He’s thrown seven touchdown passes and ran in two more scores.
“It’s really night and day, from last year to this year,” Herron said. “He knows the system in and out. And it’s been a huge turnaround for him.”
Englar said running the team’s offense last year was “nerve-racking.”
He added, “I’ve learned to be confident in myself and in my team. The guys are trying to get the job done; they’ve been working hard all year. The defense did a wonderful job tonight (vs. MELHS) and they have all season.”
But the Oilers also have a credible run game, as running back Zach Womack has carried the ball 59 times for 543 yards. Womack scored three TDs in the Sept. 23 win over Metro and has scored six TDs this season.
“He (Womack) already has more yards than he had all of last year,” Herron said. “If you look at the numbers from last year, it’s night and day.”
Like Herron, Womack raves about the off-season work ethic.
“We worked hard in the off-season,” Womack said. “We just wanted to come out and win this year. We want to win conference. It feels good to win; we’re not used to it.”
In addition, running backs Gabe Grimes and T.J. Lawson have rushed for 485 yards and 234 yards respectively. Grimes transferred to EA-WR last year from Civic Memorial.
“He’s one of those guys who bought in and did everything we asked him to do,” Herron said of Grimes. “It’s nice to have a kid like that.”
On defense, linebacker Zach Kincade has 22 solo tackles and linebackers Zach Wells and Dominic Scroggins have 19 and 14 solo tackles. EA-WR earned two shutout wins over Dupo and MELHS last week.
The Oilers were up 28-0 at the end of the first quarter against the Knights. The flavor of the game changed, as the next two quarters represented a defensive struggle and neither team scored. EA-WR scored one TD in the fourth quarter.
The Oilers did lose Womack to a hip injury after the opening quarter. He didn’t return.
“The guys who played defense really picked the whole team up tonight,” Herron said. “On special teams, we let them have some returns on our side of the 50 and we haven’t done that this year. Our defense picked up our team and played excellent.”
The Oilers will look to extend their winning streak to two games when they tangle with Pawnee on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Indians are 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the PSC on the season.
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