EDWARDSVILLE — It's the Southwestern Conference game that has come to be a must see each season — Edwardsville vs. East St. Louis.
A teacher's strike canceled the anticipated game last season, but it returned in front of a large contingency of football fans Friday at the District 7 Sports Complex. For the Flyer seniors, they earned the first win of their high school careers against the Tigers, 20-10, in a tight defensive contest.
EHS threw three interceptions and saw East Side recover an onside kick late, which hindered their chances for a victory, but in the end Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin thought it was an excellent defensive battle.
The Tigers dipped to 5-1 and 3-1 with the loss, while East St. Louis now sits atop the SWC alone at 6-0 and 4-0.
“They're good,” Martin said. “James Knight is a good player and they have more than that, but he just seemed to be making plays all over the field. They play a high pressure defense. If you can keep pounding, pounding, pounding they're one guy away. If you can make somebody miss you can have big plays. What you saw was big play, big play, stuff, stuff, stuff, big play, big play. We just didn't make enough of them tonight.
“It was a heck of a ball game, two good teams battling. Those are two good football teams.”
East Side coach Darren Sunkett said it was nice to get back in the win column vs. the Tigers. Outside of missing the game last season during the teacher's strike, the Flyers lost 57-32 in '14 and 29-28 in '13.
It was Edwardsville's first loss within the SWC since falling to East Side 14-7 on Sept. 8, 2012. Friday's loss snapped a 29-game league winning streak for the Tigers.
“It's a senior class that had never beat them, but we knew we had it in us,” Sunkett said. “The pendulum swings back and forth. They had their two year run — I don't count the third — and now we're back in the win column vs. these guys. He's got a great ball club and I'm sure they're going to have much success later this season.”
It was Edwardsville finding pay dirt first on Friday. On the third play of the opening drive, Brenden Dickmann dumped a short pass to Dayleon Harris who broke a tackle and flew up the East Side sideline 72 yards to the 1-yard line. Running back Dionte Rodgers punched it into the end zone on the next play and Devin Parker's PAT was good to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead at the 10:50 mark of the first quarter.
“The touchdown we gave up was a cheap touchdown,” Sunkett said. “It was third and 11 and they run a five-yard hitch route and we don't make the tackle. We have to catch (Harris) from behind and then they get a cheap score, but our guys never gave up and we prevailed.”
EHS threw an interception on its next possession, but got the ball back two plays later when Rodney Smith picked off East St. Louis quarterback Reyondus Estes. Smith ran the ball 40 yards to the 1-yard line, but this time Edwardsville was unable to punch the ball in for a score.
The Tigers were stopped on three running plays and settled for a 19-yard field goal by Parker to go ahead 10-0 with 3:51 to play in the first quarter.
Estes, who is bound for Mizzou to play football, said he and his teammates never lost faith that they could come back. It was the first time the Flyers had trailed in a game since Week 2 vs. CBC.
“Playing against a great ball club from the Missouri side in CBC, they came out swinging too,” Estes said. “They got up on us and we didn't do anything but keep fighting. Once (Edwardsville) got up we didn't put our heads down. I didn't let my guys hold their heads down. I felt like when they scored we were going to come back and score.”
East Side answered at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter. Estes had a 30-yard run and a 21-yard pass to Charlondo Robinson to set the stage for his 2-yard TD plunge. The 2-point try failed, leaving EHS ahead 10-6.
After forcing the Tigers to punt on a 3-and-out on their next possession, the Flyers were able to score again with just 22.2 seconds left in the half. This time Jarrell Anderson ran it in from 4 yards out. Estes found Jeff Thomas on the 2-point conversion attempt, propelling East St. Louis on top 14-10 entering the break.
“We had a good start,” Martin said. “We won the first quarter, they won the second quarter.”
The third quarter was a defensive stalemate with no one finding the end zone. Thomas had an interception for the Flyers in the third quarter.
It was East Side's third interception of the game that proved to be the biggest though. With just 4:36 remaining in the game Jame Knight grabbed a tipped Edwardsville pass at the line of scrimmage and raced 63 yards down to the 2-yard line where he fumbled. His teammate Markevion Darough was there to scoop it up and take it into the end zone. The 2-point try failed, leaving the Flyers ahead 20-10.
“They made a great play,” Martin said. “You've got to give East St. Louis credit for the win. That was a critical play, they made it. I told our kids there are things you can't control and we're starting to drive the ball and we get the worst rain of the night and it makes you a little one sided, but it is what it is.”
East Side responded with an onside kick after the TD and recovered. The Flyers were able to run out some clock and nearly scored once more. A holding penalty on a fourth-and-5 negated a 23-yard TD hookup between Estes and Thomas, instead forcing them to punt. EHS was unable to muster much on its final drive though as the clock ran out with the Flyers victorious.
“We prevailed through what, 18, 20 flags to 4?” Sunkett said. “But we prevailed. You do the math.
“We just stayed consistent, we didn't want to stray away from the running game. We didn't pop the long one like we would have liked, but we kept chugging away at it... We kept our offense on the field and their's off of it. I thought we did some good things offensively, but our defense played lights out and that's what we expect from these guys.”
Next up for the Flyers is a 1 p.m. game at Belleville East on Oct. 8. Edwardsville welcomes Belleville West for Homecoming at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7.