BELLEVILLE — Belleville East sophomore defensive back Shamar Welch wasn't about to let a golden opportunity slip through his hands again Friday.
Welch returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to cap a 17-point second quarter and the Lancers went on for a 24-8 win over Collinsville in the Southwestern Conference opener for both teams.
East (2-1), which erased a 2-0 deficit on a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Jaecob Cotton with 8 minutes and 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter, increased its advantage to 10-2 when sophomore Matt Sotiropolis booted a 23-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in the first half.
Buried deep in its own territory with time running down Collinsville quarterback Connor Zabala threw a pass into a crowd that Welch picked off at the 35-yard line.
Getting good blocking, Welch weaved his way into the end zone for the score and a 17-2 Lancers lead.
"The first two weeks, I had chances and didn't make the plays. My coaches told me all week that I was going to get one tonight," Welch said. "The credit goes to my teammates. They blocked well and I took it in the end zone."
Senior quarterback Ryan McDonald threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Parker Hendricks in the third quarter and the defense did the rest for East.
The win came after a slow start by the Lancers. But keyed by three fourth-down stops in the first half, the East defense held firm until the offense was able to get on track.
"Give Collinsville's defense credit. Coach John (Blaylock) is a good coach and he's been around for a long time. He knows what we do and we know what they do and so for a while it was like a chess match tonight," Lancers coach Tim Funk said. "The defense came up big a couple of times on fourth-down plays in the first half and we were finally able to move the football.
"The 10 points in 31 seconds at the end of the half was huge. Shamar (Welch) made a nice play and did a good job of taking in for a touchdown. That was a big part of the game."
Unfortunately for the Kahoks (1-2), they couldn't take advantage of the Lancers' slow start on offense.
East, using its size and athleticism, bottled up the Kahoks' strong running game from the beginning and never let up.
"I didn't think we played bad. I think it was 42-7 they beat us last year," Blaylock said. "They are big and strong on the defensive line and they just kept us bottled up all night.
"The play right before the half was big, but it wasn't the deciding score in the game. We just couldn't sustain anything on the ground at all. Again, the credit goes to their defense."
Collinsville's only touchdown came on a 29-yard pass from Zabala to Luke McNamara early in the fourth quarter.
The Kahoks recovered the onside kick following the score, but once again the Lancers came up big, stopping the drive inside their 40-yard line.