EDWARDSVILLE — Edwardsville coach Matt Martin had no interest in a conservative approach.
Martin went for a two-point conversion with 1:51 to play in the fourth quarter Friday and Dan Marinko and D'Anthony Knight made the decision pay off in the Tigers' 29-28 victory over East St. Louis in the Southwestern Conference opener for both teams.
Marinko, a junior quarterback, scrambled around before finding Knight, a senior, open in the back of the end zone. Marinko's pass was perfect and Knight made sure he held on.
"Danny Marinko makes you look pretty smart," Martin said. "He made that happen. They defended it well. He just makes plays.
"If you don't get it, you look dumb. (But) we came to win. We want to be conference champs. This is the first step. We've got six more tough steps. You've got to go for it."
The Tigers (3-0 overall, 1-0 SWC) trailed 28-21 when Marinko rushed for the touchdown that got them within 28-27.
Edwardsville lined up for the two-point conversion, forcing the Flyers (1-2, 0-1) to use their final timeout. Marinko knew there was no reversing course.
"We got in the huddle and looked each other in the eyes. We knew there was nothing stopping us there," Marinko said. "We knew we were going to be able to do it, and we made the play."
But with senior quarterback Dominic Nelson at the controls for East St. Louis, the Flyers were wounded but not defeated.
Nelson, a transfer from Cardinal Ritter High in St. Louis, was ruled eligible to play Thursday and showed a strong and accurate arm, going 22-for-37 for 310 yards.
He drove East Side to its 45 before firing a pass over the middle against Edwardsville's zone. The ball deflected off Tigers junior Tommy Maxwell's hands and was grabbed inches from the turf by Knight --his second interception of the game.
The Tigers then ran out the clock and began to celebrate.
"I saw it get tipped up and I caught it. Thank the Lord I caught that ball," Knight said. "I wanted to run; I didn't know what to do. 'Ruji' (junior linebacker Zac Rujawitz) was putting me down, saying 'Get on the ground' so the clock could run out."
East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett, whose team was eliminated by Edwardsville on the same field in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs last November, credited the Tigers for going for two.
"We had it defended," Sunkett said. "(Marinko) did a great job. He made plays all game. He's a pretty good athlete. Our corner just dropped coverage when he started scrambling. It was a mistake everybody makes on every level."
Edwardsville sizzled at the start, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Marinko's 2-yard touchdown run and an 11-yard TD pass from Marinko to senior Darius Crochrell.
But the Flyers scored two touchdowns in less than 10 seconds to inch within 14-12 at halftime.
Nelson's 1-yard TD dive made it 14-6 with 34.8 seconds to play in the second quarter, and after the Flyers recovered a squibbed kickoff, Nelson hit freshman Jeff Thomas with a 39-yard TD pass. However, Nelson was stopped on the ensuing two-point conversion run.
Edwardsville junior Trentan Daley missed two third-quarter field-goal attempts -- one from 37 yards, one from 31 yards -- as the Tigers failed to capitalize on deep penetration into Flyers' turf.
But Knight eased the pain with an 8-yard TD run that put Edwardsville ahead 21-12 with 37.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
Nelson's 13-yard scoring pass to junior Raquan Griffin cut the Flyers' deficit to 21-20 with 9:39 left in the game.
East Side forced Edwardsville to punt and took a 28-21 lead on Nelson's 15-yard TD pass to senior Greg Taylor and Nelson's two-point conversion pass to Thomas with 4:41 remaining.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.