The Shreveport Evangel Christian Eagles defense proved to be as good as advertised on Saturday at Clyde Jordan Stadium.
Tamauge Sloan scored on a 10-yard run and senior Christian Bailiff caught a 35-yard scoring pass from Blake Shapen as the Eagles from Louisiana defeated East St. Louis 14-6 at the Gateway Scholars Football Classic.
The Eagles, making their 2017 debut in front of a large East St. Louis crowd, broke up a scoreless battle with a pair of scores in the second half, then turned to its heralded defense to keep the lead against the defending Class 7A Illinois state champions.
Sloan scored on a 10-yard run following an East St. Louis turnover with 8:50 left in the third quarter to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. They would never trail, despite mthan 180 yards in penalties in a penalty filled contest.
Led by junior linebacker Elijah Chatman, the Eagles kept the East St. Louis offense from getting on track. Chatman and the Eagles defense was simply all over the field
“He’s be a four year starter for us and that’s the way he plays the game,” Evangel Christian coach Byron Dawson said of Chatman. “I thought he did a great job of leading our defense especially when we had a couple of players banged up.
East St. Louis, playing without senior running back Jarrell Anderson, injured last week and out for the season with an ACL injury, closed to within 7-6 with just over eight minutes left.
With Evangel Christian guilty of a pair of 15-yard penalties, the Flyers moved inside the 10-yard line. Senior Christian Perez connected with Lawaun Powell on a 3-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 7-6.
But the Flyers fumbled an attempted 2-point conversion attempt and the Eagles had a 7-6 lead.
After an exchange of possessions, Shapen hooked up with Ryley Thompson for 32-yards on a third-and-long situation. One play later, a scrambling Shapen found Bailiff on a 35-yard scoring play with 5:58 left to give his team a 14-6 lead.
Against a fired up Eagles defense, the Flyers (1-1) couldn’t come back.
“I can say that without question that’s one of the best defensive units I’ve ever gone up against as a coach,” East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said. “They are well coached and they really played well tonight.
“But the kids on our football team also played very well. We made some mistakes but we fought them down to the wire. Nobody on this football team has any reason to hang their heads. Two great football programs went at it tonight. I thought each member of this team played hard and gave it everything they had.”
Evangel Christian, returning almost everyone on a defense that recorded six shutouts on its way to winning the Louisiana Class 1 state title last year, and a fired up Flyers defense dominated the first half.
But penalties played a key role for both teams in the first 30 minutes East St. Louis was whistled for eight penalties for 90 yards, while Evangel, playing its season opener was called for nine penalties for 105 yards.
But none was bigger than one in the opening two minutes of the game. Sophomore quarterback Blake Sharpen, making his debut connected with senior Ryley Thompson on an 83-yard scoring pass. But a holding penalty nullified the score.
The Eagles were called for four holding penalties in the first half.
The Flyers, going up against an Eagles defense featuring three LSU recruits, finally got their offense going midway in the second quarter.
Senior quarterback Christian Perez, making just his second start in an East St. Louis uniform, connected on a 38-yard strike to Eric Rogers and when sophomore DeMonta Witherspoon, filling in for injured senior Jarrell Anderson, rumbled 21 yards, the Flyers had the ball inside the Eagles 15-yard line.
But two plays later, sophomore Lawaun Powell was stripped of the ball going through the line and the Eagles recovered inside the 12-yard line.
The Flyers nearly got a big break in the closing minute when Sharpen was hit and fumbled inside his own 10-yard line. But the sophomore was called down and the Eagles retained possession.