EAST ST. LOUIS — On a winter-like Saturday afternoon, the defensive unit of the (Oak Lawn) Richards Bulldogs refused to crack.
The East St. Louis Flyers' offense, meanwhile, simply fell apart.
Senior Savon Robinson set up the Bulldogs' only score with a blocked punt and the Richards' defense forced five turnovers as it moved into the Class 6A state championship game with a 7-6 semifinal win at Clyde Jordan Stadium.
With wind-chill temperatures dipping into single digits and the defenses on both sides dominating, Robinson made what turned out to be the biggest play of the game when he blocked a punt by the Flyers' Treevon Prater inside the East St. Louis 5-yard line early in the second quarter.
Three plays later, Romeo Johnson scored on a 1-yard run and with 9:40 left in the second quarter, and the Bulldogs went up 7-0.
"I just wanted to help my team in any way I could. I love these guys and we've worked hard to get to this point," Robinson said. "The defense has been playing well all year. We weren't going to stop today."
East St. Louis senior all-state running back Gregory Taylor rushed for 171 yards. Taylor scored on an 82-yard run with 6:40 left in the first half, but the extra-point attempt sailed wide.
The Flyers (9-4), who had a 75-yard fumble recovery by Taylor nullified by an illegal use of the hands penalty late in the second quarter, would never draw even.
East St. Louis, which fumbled three times in the second half, still had a chance to win late in the game.
Taking over inside its own 20-yard line with just over two minutes left, East St. Louis drove inside the Bulldogs 25.
But Flyers quarterback Dominic Nelson had a pass intercepted in the end zone as time expired.
As Richards celebrated, East St. Louis players were heartbroken that their quest for a trip to the state title game had fallen one step short.
"It's disappointing, because we just had some uncharacteristic mistakes and turnovers. I think maybe we had trouble adapting to the conditions. But you can't turn the football over five times in a game -- especially in the state semifinals against a good team," Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. "Their defense was good. But again we made too many mistakes.
"We struggled with special teams today. The blocked punt and the missed extra point. It's a tough way to end it."
The win moves Richards (12-1) into its first state title game since 2001, when it placed second in Class 6A. The Bulldogs will take on Batavia on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Huskies Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
But on a day when its offense generated only two first downs and junior quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers was sacked eight times, Richards' defense was the difference.
"Am I surprised we only had two first downs and still won the football game? Not with our defense," Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. "You are talking about a group of kids who had six shutouts and have given up 12 points in four playoff games.
"East St. Louis is a very good football team and we knew it would be tough coming down here. To be in the state final is great. It's been a long time for our program."
Sheehan said that while East St. Louis didn't have many weaknesses, he felt he could take advantage the one they did.
"In watching them on film, we thought we saw a weakness in the punting game," Sheehan said. "We thought if we came hard up the middle that we might be able to get one (punt). We got two.
"He (Robinson) is a great football player. He's made big plays for us all year. That was a big play."
The Flyers turned the ball on three of their first five possessions in the second half. But Richards failed to take advantage of excellent field position.