BELLEVILLE — Senior Sam Mulford set the tone on a rain-drenched field with two first-half touchdowns and the Edwardsville Tigers' defense was stifling again Friday in a 24-0 victory over Belleville East.
Mulford scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter and a 3-yard run in the second quarter to give the Tigers all the offense they would need in a game delayed by lightning for 1 hour, 2 minutes.
"It was good," said the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Mulford, with mud clinging to his face and uniform. "We came out and we executed well the first half. The second half, I wish we would have played better, but we have such a great defense. They're what's keeping us in ballgames right now."
It was the second consecutive shutout win for Edwardsville (6-1 overall, 4-1 in the Southwestern Conference) and its third overall. The win assured the Tigers of a playoff berth.
"I'm really happy for the kids," Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. "I think a lot of them took their lumps last year. A lot of them were sophomores playing varsity ball. They just kept working hard and grinding at it. A lot of positives tonight."
Senior Brandon Baker added a 20-yard field goal for Edwardsville in the fourth quarter, and junior Craig James culminated the scoring with a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The loss dropped East to 3-4 and 2-3. The Lancers will need victories over Collinsville and O'Fallon to qualify for the playoffs.
"There's no question we want to make the playoffs and it's down to two games, but there are some teams right now that are 2-5, and what are those guys doing? Do they just not play?" Lancers coach Tim Funk said.
"My point is, there's only eight teams happy at the end. We're going to come out and we're going to compete and have fun and try to get better as a football team. Tonight, we got beat by a better team."
The Tigers covered 61 yards on their second possession of the game and took a 7-0 lead on Mulford's first touchdown, a 2-yard-run up the middle, with 6:02 to play in the first quarter.
Two possessions later, Edwardsville had a short field after a 25-yard punt, taking the ball at the 50 and scoring seven plays later on Mulford's 3-yard run up the middle at the 9:07 mark of the second quarter.
"The one thing I'm most proud of is I didn't fumble. I held on to the ball," said Mulford, who had 15 carries for 89 yards. "I take pride in doing that. We work on drills in practice and Coach (Jason) Steward does a real good job getting us ready for conditions like this."
Mulford said the field was in rough condition because of the all-day rain, but it didn't deteriorate during the game.
Still, it wasn't conducive to a team that likes to run, although Mulford's numbers would tend to disprove that notion.
"The field held up pretty well," Mulford said. "It got muddier. As you got tackled, you got more mud on your jersey, so you got slicker. But we kind of put that in the back of our head and just tried to play football."
The Lancers were held to nine first downs, and Funk said the Edwardsville defense was as good as advertised.
"They beat us," Funk said. "They beat us up front tonight, and that's a good football team. They're 6-1 for a reason."
Funk credited Mulford, who in recent weeks has been a bit overshadowed by the emergence of senior Bennett Gray.
"Honestly, either one of those kids are good enough to hurt you," Funk said. "Our kids played pretty well at times, but there were a couple of big plays there that just turned the field-position tide on us."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.