Team meeting helped Flyers turn it around

News-DemocratNovember 23, 2013 

East St. Louis football coach Darren Sunkett remembers it well.

It was the September night when the 2013 season changed for his than 1-3 football team.

"We had a team meeting. But it wasn't a typical meeting. We didn't meet as coaches. We didn't meet as players. We met as one group. A collective group of people looking for a way to help us get to where we wanted to be,'' Sunkett said. "We cleared the air.. There was a lot of emotion.

"But that night we decided together as a collective group to work as hard as we could to get back to playing East St. Louis football.''

Eight weeks and eight wins later and the Flyers are back to where so many East St. Louis teams have been before -- on the verge of a berth in a state championship game.

A near-capacity crowd is expected to see if East St. Louis can take that final step today when it takes on the (Oak Lawn) Richards Bulldogs in a Class 6A semifinal at Clyde Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis.

Today's game: (Oak Lawn) Richards (11-1) at East St. Louis (9-3) 3 p.m.

Last week: The Bulldogs needed overtime to defeat (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way North 12-6. East St. Louis defeated (New Lenox) Providence Catholic 27-26.

Playoff history: Richards is making it 32nd playoff appearance and has a postseason mark of 59-28 with two state championships. East St. Louis is in the playoffs for the 35th time, with a record of 80-26 and seven state titles.

About the Bulldogs: A member of the South Suburban Red Conference, Richards has outscored its opponents 404-111 this season. Coached by Tony Sheehan, the Bulldogs placed second in their league and of their 11 wins, six have been by shutout.

"It's been a long time since we've been in the state semifinals. But it's a testament to the hard work and dedication these kids have given us throughout this season," Sheehan said. "I'm very happy for the way we've bonded together and I'm very happy for our seniors, some of which have been with us for three years.''

Sunkett on Richards: "Richards is a good football team. You don't get to the state semifinals in Illinois if you are not. The quarterback (Hasan Muhammad-Rogers) has an absolute cannon for an arm. He can throw it 70 yards in the air and he's got the receivers who can catch it and do something with it after they do. ... Defensively, they've got good speed and they go to the football well."

Sheehan on the Flyers: "They are big, fast and very well coached. On defense they just fly to the football and they really hit. The (Gregory) Taylor kid is elusive and he reads the holes very well. The freshman wide receiver (Jeff Thomas) is a very talented player."

Sunkett on the keys to the game: "We've got to be able to control the tempo of the game by running the ball and keeping their offense off the field. Also, we've got to get back and not let them get behind us with their passing game. He (Hasan Muhammad-Rogers) will nickle-and-dime you, but with that arm and those receivers, they can hit a big play at any time."

Oak Lawn Richards players to watch: QB Hasan Muhammad-Rogers, (127 of 233 for 2,205 yards, 28 TDs, 102 carries for 422 yards and 8 TDs); RB Romeo Johnson 448 yards, 8 TDs); RB Romel Hill (43 carries for 375 yards and 3 TDs); WR Tacari Carpenter (41 receptions for 818 yards and 14 TDs); WR Spencer Tears (32 receptions for 467 yards and 4 TDs); WR Dedrick Shannon (24 receptions for 448 yards and 4 TDs); WR Ryan Willett (23 receptions for 384 yards and 5 TDs).

East St. Louis Players to watch: QB Dominic Nelson (91 of 164 for 1,521 yards, 13 TDs and 5 Ints., 5 rushing TDs); RB-DB Gregory Taylor (171 carries for 1,604 yards, 18 TDs, 15 receptions for 210 yards and 3 TDs; 94 tackles, 63 solos, 2 sacks, 2 Ints.) WR Jeff Thomas (54 receptions for 929 yards and 10 TDs); WR Treevon Prater (21 receptions for 306 yards and 4 TDs); LB Kyron Watson (151 tackles, 98 solos, 3 sacks, 2 Ints.) DT Terry Beckner (123 tackles, 73 solos, 10 sacks).

Up next: The East St. Louis-Richards winner will take on either Rockford Boylan or Batavia for the Class 6A state championship on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

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