East St. Louis football coach Darren Sunkett was pleased Saturday with the Flyers’ season-opening 40-28 victory over Providence Catholic and, specifically, the performance of new quarterback Christian Perez.
But the defending 7A state football champions must make strides on defense, Sunkett said. Big ones.
“What I’m unhappy with is the defense. I mean, that’s just the worst defense I’ve ever been associated with,” Sunkett said. “We prepared too hard for that defense to look that way. That’s just unacceptable.
“If we’re going to win a championship, that defense has to get some pride about themselves and get out here and make some plays for us. I’m concerned about the defense. You’re not going to win many games giving up 30 points a game. ... We had a lot of blown assignments.”
East St. Louis allowed a 62-yard touchdown run by Providence senior quarterback Caden Kalinowski, who added TD passes of 66 yards and 2 yards.
Perez, a transfer from O’Fallon, was sensational in his debut. After running back Jarrell Anderson was injured on the first play of the game, Perez was 20-for-26 through the air for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
Teams often make some of their biggest improvements of the season between the first and second games. Sunkett hopes that applies to the Flyers’ defensive unit.
“There’s no excuses for it,” he said. “I just thought we should have done a better job. Hopefully, we do improve from Week 1 to Week 2. We definitely have to. We’re playing a national powerhouse next week. If we don’t correct some things, we could have some issues.”
The Flyers, who have won 15 in a row, will play Evangel Christian Academy of Shreveport, La., at 7 p.m. Saturday, part of the second annual Gateway Scholars Football Classic at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium. Evangel Christian was 12-2 last season and features three LSU recruits.
East St. Louis has struggled on defense previously, too, only to recover.
The Flyers surrendered 138 points in their first three games of the 2014 season — losses to top opponents St. Xavier (35-20), Montini (46-32) and Edwardsville (57-32). East Side, however, allowed just 137 points in its next eight games before falling to Peoria Notre Dame 49-27 in the first round of the playoffs.
Marti looks sharp
The top quarterback in the Mississippi Valley Conference, Highland senior Garrett Marti was in midseason form on Friday in the Bulldogs’ 47-6 win over visiting Alton.
Running coach Jim Warnecke’s offense to perfection, Marti was an efficient 18-of-26 for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Highly-touted junior wide receiver Sam LaPorta was Marti’s top target, catching five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
But the most impressive part of Marti’s performance was that the four touchdown passes were to four different receivers.
“Garrett was sharp,” Warnecke said. “He found a real good rhythm from the start and was able to carry it through the game. I felt his pre-snap decision making was on point and he was able to spread the ball around effectively hitting six different receivers throughout the night.
“It’s no surprise to anyone that Sam is our go-to guy, but I feel like we put stress on secondaries with having excellent options to throw to if they try to focus on Sam. Sam had a good night, highlighted with a real nice catch over a defender for a score. This being said, we had three different penalties that all voided big play catches by Sam, two of which were TD receptions. We will improve in this area.”
Warnecke was also pleased with the Bulldogs’ defense, which held the athletic Redbirds in check.
“I thought the story of the night was our defense,” he said. “They set the tone for the team right from the start scooping up a fumble from the first play from scrimmage. They are a hard-working group that will be exciting to watch this season. Coach (Derek) Rolfingsmeier puts in an enormous amount of time in and it shows with this group.
Madison returns in style
After an absence of 25 years, the Madison High School Trojans returned to the gridiron on a winning note with a 64-0 win over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Rockford on Saturday.
Under the guidance of former East St. Louis and Cahokia assistant coach Mike Hill, the Trojans scored early and often behind the play of senior quarterback Rhyheem Samuels, who threw a pair of touchdown passes and added a 78-yard touchdown run.
Hill said Samuels, a former East St. Louis player, had more than 450 passing yards for the game. But Madison, which has a team for the first time since 1988, gave a solid overall performance in its debut.
“The kids were not nervous at all,” Hill said. “They were ready to go. We have put in a lot of time into this since we put it together this summer. We’ve played 7-on-7 scrimmages with teams like Cahokia, to get the kids ready for this day. I’m not surprised with the way the kids played. Like I said we were ready to go.
“I was very pleased with the way the kids on special teams and on defense executed. We had a great trip and now we’ll get ready for next week.”
The Trojans play host to Metro-East Lutheran at 11 a.m. Saturday. The two schools combined for a co-op football program in both 2015 and 2016.
Gateway Scholars Football Classic
Fresh off an emotional win over Providence Catholic on Saturday, East St. Louis will take on Evangel Christian Academy of Shreveport, La., in the marquee game of the second annual Gateway Scholars Football Classic on Sept. 2 at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium.
The game between the defending Class 7A state champion Flyers and several-time state Louisiana state champion Eagles will begin at 7 p.m. and be the third of three games played Saturday.
The three game Gateway Scholars Classic begins at 1 p.m. when Cahokia takes on Camden (N.J.) High School. The Comanches are coached by former NFL offensive lineman and former East St. Louis assistant coach John Clay. Belleville West will take on Erial (N.J.) Timber Creek Regional High School in the middle game beginning at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $10 and are available at East St. Louis, Cahokia and Belleville West high schools. Tickets are good for all three games, but there will be no readmission. People who leave the stadium will have to purchase another ticket if they wish to return.