WOOD RIVER — It was a tale of two halves Friday at Memorial Stadium in Wood River.
The second half went to the East Alton-Wood River Oilers and led them to a 13-7 win over the Kincaid (South Fork) Ponies. With the win the Oilers improved to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the Prairie State Conference. The Ponies slipped to 4-3 and 4-1 in the PSC.
After entering the locker room down 6-0, committing three first-half turnovers and committing 6 penalties for 40 yards, EA-WR scored 13 unanswered second-half points, had no turnovers and just 1 penalty for 10 yards in the final half.
It's been the story for the Oilers according to head coach Garry Herron, they are a second-half football team.
“This team for whatever reason this season has been a second-half team,” Herron said. “I knew they weren't going to quit. Last year that was our M.O. and this year that's not the case. I knew these kids were going to fight until the end and I can't be more proud of their performance tonight.”
It was junior running back Brayden Young that sent Memorial Stadium into euphoria with 42.7 seconds remaining in the game. On a second-and-goal from the 2-yard line, quarterback Justin Englar handed it to Young who sprinted around the left side and darted into the end zone for the go-ahead score. Austin Carlisle's PAT was good, putting the Oilers up 13-6.
The defense then put the finishing touches on the win, swatting down long passing attempts by the Ponies on their final drive and capping it off with a Lukas Westbrook interception as time expired.
“That was unbelievable. I've never done that before,” Young said of scoring the game-winning touchdown. He finished with 7 carries for 39 yards and the score. “I knew they were focusing on Gabe (Grimes) and Zach (Womack) so they told me to run outside and dart inside and we scored.”
Englar is happy to have a third option in the backfield with Young. Zach Womack led the rushing attack Friday with 14 carries for 99 yards and Gabe Grimes hauled the rock 17 times for 68 yards, but when it needed the big play Young came through for EA-WR.
“I told him, 'Follow your blockers, get outside and if you see a hole just bust through it and don't let anybody stop you,'” Englar said. “He did exactly that and I couldn't be more proud of him. This is his second game starting at halfback and he did a great job.
“It's been really helpful, we've got great depth at all our skill positions and our O-line is doing a great job. We just keep rolling this season and hopefully we get another win next week.”
Young was also key in the final defensive stand, batting down a pass in the secondary. Senior defensive tackle Jacob Vassos said the Oilers take a lot of pride in their defense and they were definitely key in the win over South Fork.
“Defense is a big key for our team,” Vassos said. “We can move the ball on offense, but defense is where we've really got to hold them and we were able to contain the passes tonight and that was great. We defended the inside run pretty good and everybody just did a great job tonight on defense.”
It was a rocky start for EA-WR in the game. On its third possession the offense was moving the ball well, but after a 12-play drive, Englar through the ball to the corner of the end zone from the South Fork 7-yard line and it was picked off by Jordan Brunk of the Ponies. It was the first of three first-half turnovers for the Oilers, who lost two fumbles later in the half.
The first fumble set up South Fork with good field position. The Ponies went 29 yards on 8 plays, capped by a 1-yard TD plunge by running back Dawson Williams with 1:56 remaining in the second quarter. The extra point attempt failed, leaving South Fork up 6-0 at the break.
Herron stayed positive with the Oilers in the locker room and preached better ball security in the second half, which was what they did.
“I went into the locker room and was as positive as possible,” Herron said. “I want the kids to know the coaches are behind them and if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot we can win a lot of football games. We needed to come back out in the second half and play mistake free football and let the rest work itself out.”
EA-WR found some success with the deep ball on Friday. Englar connected with Westbrook on a 60-yard completion in the first half and then found pay dirt on a 50-yard TD strike to Christian Hunter at the 7:59 mark of the fourth quarter. He found Hunter again on a 35-yard hookup on the game-winning drive to set up Young's score.
Overall, Englar was 7-of-14 through the air for 175 yards, a TD and an interception.
“(Hunter) was saying, 'I've got a step on them,' or, 'They're going this way and I'm wide open, so just throw it up there,'” Englar said. “I said, 'OK, I've got you.' I just looked up one time and he was wide open so I gave it to him and then that deep one in the fourth quarter I saw he had a step on them and I had a hand in my face. I just threw it up there for him and I knew he was taller than the defender and I let him go up and get it.”
Hunter paced the receiving corps with two catches for 85 yards and the score.
For a program that's scuffled in recent history, a win like Friday is a huge boost. EA-WR is looking for its first winning season since going 6-4 in 2006, the last time the program reached the postseason. The Oilers will look to secure that winning season at 7 p.m. next Friday at Nokomis before finishing up the regular season at Mount Olive in Week 9.
“I'm just so happy for our coaches, our kids, our fans, they deserve something good again and I think I deserve something good, too,” Herron said. “It's a great feeling.”