BELLEVILLE — East St. Louis got back on the winning track Saturday at the expense of Belleville East.
The Flyers fell behind 3-0 in the first quarter, then used a punishing ground attack to post a 52-3 victory in a Southwestern Conference game.
Senior Gregory Taylor rushed for three touchdowns and junior Natereace Strong, who was cleared to play Thursday, added two for the Flyers (2-3 overall, 1-2 SWC).
"We realized in order for our offense to go, we had to get our running game back on track," said East Side coach Darren Sunkett, whose team rushed for more than 500 yards. "We really put major emphasis on that this week in practice, and it paid off for us."
The Flyers, coming off narrow losses to Edwardsville (29-28) and O'Fallon (10-6), dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and gave the Lancers (2-3, 1-2) little room to operate.
"We don't have answers for that," Lancers coach Tim Funk said. "As a head coach, it's your job to come up with ways to win games and compete. (But) against a good football team like that ... They're more physical than us, they're faster than us, they outplayed us."
Unofficially, East had 23 yards on plays from scrimmage.
However, the game started well enough for the Lancers when junior Jalen Thompson recovered a fumble by Flyers senior quarterback Dominic Nelson on the East Side 42-yard-line.
The Lancers drove to the 22 before a wind-aided 40-yard field goal by senior John Mathews made it 3-0.
East senior Jeff Brown recovered another fumble, this one by senior Wilbur Jones, to give the Lancers the ball at the Flyers' 42. But the chance led to nothing, and East Side took over.
Taylor's 65-yard TD run made it 7-3, and two possessions later, Nelson hit freshman Jeff Thomas for a 14-yard TD pass that made it 13-3 with 7:28 left in the first half.
Nelson's 12-yard TD pass to senior Treevon Prater on the Flyers' next possession made it 20-3 at halftime.
East Side took a 26-3 lead in the third quarter. Jones intercepted a pass by Lancers senior quarterback Ryan McDonald and raced 46 yards to the Lancers' 1, where he fumbled. But senior Kevion Gilmore was there to pounce on the ball in the end zone.
Strong bolted 80 yards on a first-down play to put the Flyers on top 32-3 with 6:51 remaining in the third quarter, and after East Side recovered a fumble on the kickoff, Strong scored from 10 yards out to make it 39-3.
Taylor's 6-yard run made it 45-3 and started a continuous running clock with 9:22 to play in the game. Taylor scored again, this time on a 20-yard run, to conclude the scoring with 1:37 to play.
"Strong and Taylor did a great job," Sunkett said. "If we keep working on this thing in practice, I think we'll have a pretty good one-two combination.
"We definitely needed a win. With things going so good for us the last eight, nine years, I realized (in the last two weeks) I don't like losing, and the kids realized they don't like losing. They really stepped their game up. ... Now we've got to take the next step."
Strong suffered a bone bruise on his shin against Lombard Montini on Sept. 7. He was used very sparingly the following week against Edwardsville and not at all Sept. 21 against O'Fallon.
"Hopefully, we can keep him healthy. That's the main thing with him," Sunkett said. "Over a three-year period, he just hasn't been durable. Hopefully, with Taylor sharing some of that load, we can keep him for the rest of the games to come."
Funk said the Lancers must accomplish more on offense.
"We're just going to go back to the drawing board, go back to the basics and try to find ways to do a better job moving the ball and keep our defense on the sidelines," he said. "We had so many three-and-outs. You just can't do that.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.