NORMAL — East St. Louis senior Gregory Taylor showed why he's headed to Missouri as a defensive back, intercepting a Normal West pass and maneuvering 37 yards to the end zone.
He had a pretty good day on the other side of the ball, too.
Taylor rushed for 307 yards and three touchdowns Saturday to power the No. 6-ranked and sixth-seeded Flyers to a 33-6 victory over the host Wildcats in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
"He's our workhorse," said East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett, whose team will host Normal Community in the second round. "I thought our kids did a pretty good job on a wet, soft field. That kind of takes away some of our athleticism."
Junior halfback Marvin Young added 127 yards on the ground as the Flyers (7-3) racked up 434 yards on 49 carries.
Genia Fuss totaled 129 rushing yards for the No. 3-seeded Wildcats (8-2), who missed a chance at a 12-12 tie in the second quarter when Dominique Stevenson got stuffed from the 1 on fourth-and-goal by nationally ranked junior defensive end Terry Beckner.
"It was the same play we'd been running, lead and power," said West coach Darren Hess. "They slanted across and got in on the play.
"They're an excellent team; there's a reason why they're rated No. 6 in the state. They have tremendous athletes, but I thought our guys matched their intensity. We just came up a little short."
Missed opportunities stung both teams. The Wildcats settled for two Zach Breen field goals on four trips inside the red zone, while the Flyers coughed away three fumbles and were stopped on downs twice.
"In my opinion, I thought we left about 20-35 points on the field just by our mistakes killing drives," said Sunkett. "The main thing is just taking care of the ball, especially when we're in scoring position."
Beckner and Kansas recruit Kyron Watson spearheaded an East St. Louis defense that held Stevenson to 77 yards on 26 attempts and quarterback Mitch Fairfield to 54 yards on 3-of-12 passing.
"They moved the ball well early in the game and we just had to make adjustments," said Sunkett. "We did our job, held them to three points."
All four of East St. Louis' scoring drives lasted four plays. Taylor's 5-yard run capped the Flyers' first drive of 70 yards, of which he had 60. His 44-yard run led to a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Dominic Nelson that broke a 6-6 tie in the second quarter.
A 26-yard screen from Nelson to Jeff Thomas triggered another 5-yard TD from Taylor, who added a 36-yard scoring dash before his interception return.
"They just have big, physical players and great running backs," said Hess. "We missed some tackles here or there but they made a lot of plays on their own.
"I'm proud of our kids. We didn't back down against a very physical team. We're proud of our effort, and 8-2 is a good standard as a program. Obviously we want to get by this hump, so we'll keep working."