NEW LENOX — Urged to use his speed all season by his coaches and teammates, East St. Louis quarterback Dominic Nelson finally turned himself loose Saturday.
Nelson scored on a 10-yard run with one minute remaining, then threw the game-winning two-point conversion pass to freshman Jeff Thomas as the Flyers stunned Providence Catholic 27-26 in a wild Class 6A football quarterfinal.
"My linemen were saying 'Look out there and run, we've got it,''' Nelson explained, "so I trusted my line and I trusted my teammates. That's why we ended up with the 'W' today."
East St. Louis (9-3) will face either Oak Lawn Richards (10-1) or Frankfort Lincoln-Way North (10-1) in the semifinals next week.
What did Nelson see as he took the snap on fourth-and-2 at the Celtics' 10-yard line?
"I saw that they gave me the perfect opportunity to make a play for my team," said Nelson, who used a play-action fake and rolled right before sprinting into the end zone. "I feel blessed when the game got tough that God put the opportunities in my hands to make a play -- and I did that."
Nelson's run only cut the Celtics' lead to 26-25. Having missed two of their previous three extra-point tries, the Flyers decided to go for the win instead of a tie.
"We were away from home," Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. "We were going to win it or lose on that play. I would have took the criticism if we hadn't made it, but that's part of being a head coach.
"I had a couple assistant coaches say 'Go for it,' we knew we could get Jeff one-on-one with his guy. As soon as he moved inside, we knew we had it. All we needed was a perfect throw."
Nelson took care of that and the Flyers' defense shut down Providence on its final possession to guarantee East Side's first trip to the semifinals since 2009.
"It's tradition, back to our old ways," Nelson said. "This is where we belong; playing late in November, playing for a championship. Playing for our city."
East St. Louis senior and University of Missouri recruit Gregory Taylor ran for 185 yards and three TDs, including a 62-yard TD run at the start of the second half.
Providence coach Mark Coglianese knew the Flyers would go for the win instead of the tie.
"We talked about it, we knew they were going for two," Coglianese said. "We even took that timeout to see their formation, but I think they changed it after that. East St. Louis played very well, they made the plays when they had to.
"That's kind of what it came down to, that last drive and we had them a few times on third or fourth down. They've got some playmakers."
Providence Catholic kicker Austin Regan had four field goals. But by keeping the Celtics out of the end zone each time, the Flyers' defense did its job.
"That's what the game's all about, holding them to three instead of seven," Sunkett said. "We know if we hold them to three we win that drive. Our defense stepped up when it had to and put it in the hands of the offense, and the offense did its job."
Nelson was at his best on the Flyers' final scoring drive, picking up a first down with a 17-yard run.
They took over at their own 20 with 7:09 remaining, then got a break when Providence's Noah Cralle was called for pass interference. That gave East Side a first down at the Celtics' 17.
Sunkett had confidence that Nelson would get the job done.
"It was a great play," Sunkett said. "We've been telling Dominic all year use your legs, use your legs, you've got the ability to scramble. He finally did it, he tucked it and he kept that drive going."
Taylor opened the second half with an electrifying 62-yard TD run, but Providence answered quickly on a 19-yard TD pass from Justin Hunniford to Miles Boykin.
Boykin had eight catches for 106 yards, while Dominic Lagone ran for 123 yards on 17 carries for the Celtics.
Regan's 23-yard field goal with 7:09 remaining gave Providence a 26-19 lead, but it didn't last. He also booted field goals of 29 yards, 35 yards and 31 yards in the first half.
Taylor's 3-yard touchdown run capped a 60-yard scoring drive by the Flyers on their first possession.
Providence answered with a 7-yard TD pass to tight end Austin Garwood from Hunniford. Regan's 35-yard field goal made it 13-6 for the Celtics, but the Flyers shifted into running gear again and rode Taylor down the field.
He scored on an 11-yard run with 2:26 remaining in the first half, but the Flyers missed their second straight extra-point try as the Celtics led 13-12.