EAST ST. LOUIS — Like the No. 13 worn on his East St. Louis jersey, Daniel Williams proved to be unlucky for the Belleville West Maroons on Saturday in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
Williams caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown and provided the backbreaker with a 94-yard punt return for a score late in the third quarter as East St. Louis rallied for a 27-13 win at Clyde Jordan Stadium.
Taking advantage of a mistake-prone Flyers offense which lost five fumbles in a eight-minute span from late in the second quarter and into the third, West (6-4) led 13-7 with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter following a 27-yard field goal by Austin Seibert.
On the next Flyers possession, Williams caught a 37-yard pass from quarterback Demus Jones to move the ball inside the Maroons' 30-yard line.
Two plays later, Jones hooked up with Gregory Taylor for a 21-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 13.
After a safety put the Flyers up 15-13, Williams increased the lead to 21-13 when, taking a punt at the Flyers' 6, he broke to the right sideline and sprinted to the end zone.
"He's a senior and that's what we ask of him,'' Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said of Williams. "In tough situations, we expect him to step up and make plays for us. Daniel stepped up big time for us today and also did a great job of making big catches.''
Jones added a 1-yard run with 2:41 remaining to clinch it for the Flyers (8-2), who will play at Edwardsville in a second-round game next week. The Tigers (9-1) defeated Pekin 49-7 in their first-round game.
Dates and times for the second round of the players will be released Monday.
Making its second playoff appearance in three years, West gave the Flyers all they wanted.
And like they did three weeks ago in a 26-7 loss also at Clyde Jordan Stadium, the Maroons used a big play on their first possession to take a lead.
Making his second start at quarterback in place of injured Sherand Boyd, sophomore Ian Baumann scored on a 66-yard run on the Maroons' third play from scrimmage.
Baumann broke through the Flyers' line and used his speed to outrun the East St. Louis' secondary to the end zone.
From then on, however, the going got tough for the Maroons offense.
Getting strong efforts from junior linebacker Kyron Wilson and sophomore defensive lineman Terry Beckner, the Flyers defense overcame turnovers and a spirited Maroons effort.
"Defense played well all day and take the fumbles away and the offense played well,'' Sunkett said. "We moved the ball well all day. There was nothing that West did. It was us turning the ball over that stopped those drives.
"I give our kids credit for not dropping their heads or getting down when we kept fumbling the football.''
West coach Cameron Pettus didn't have a lot to say following the loss.
"As coaches, we are very proud of this football team and we love these kids,'' Pettus said. "And, we're closing the gap. That's all I want to say.''
The Flyers tied the score at 7 when Jones fired a 9-yard strike to Williams, a Ball State University recruit, with 11:04 left in the first half.
West forced the first of five Flyers turnovers late in the first half deep inside East St. Louis territory.
With the help of a pair of pass interference penalties, the Maroons moved inside the 20, where Seibert boomed home a 30-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half as West took a 10-7 lead.
The mistakes kept coming in the third quarter for the Flyers, who fumbled four times. Sophomore running back Natetreace Strong, who rushed for 124 yards, fumbled twice.
But after Seibert's second field goal put West up 13-7, the Flyers responded with the next 20 points.