East St. Louis was clinging to a perilous one-point lead over Edwardsville late in the second quarter Friday in the Southwestern Conference opener for both teams.
A pass by Flyers senior quarterback Christian Perez on a third-and-25 play from the Edwardsville 38 was tipped by the Tigers and fell into the arms of sophomore wideout Lawaun Powell Jr. in the back of the end zone, putting East Side in control of its eventual 32-7 victory.
The TD, followed by a two-point conversion, made it 16-7 with 47.2 seconds left in the first half. The Flyers’ defense did the rest, holding the Tigers to one first down in the second half.
“The safety came over and tipped the ball, and it just went right into my hands,” the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Powell said. “It was a big moment for me because I wanted to make that play for my team. We needed it.”
The Flyers, coming off a 14-6 loss to national powerhouse Evangel Christian Academy, of Shreveport, La., improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the SWC.
“It definitely changed the game,” East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said of Perez’s connection with Powell. “That was big. Lawaun just had great concentration. He never gave up on the play. He went out there and made a play for us, and that’s what this game is all about.”
Perez, a transfer from O’Fallon, added touchdown passes of 35 yards and 14 yards, both to senior Eric Rodgers II. He has thrown for eight TDs in three games.
Edwardsville, which played its first game without star junior running back Dionte Rodgers, tumbled to 0-3 and 0-1. Tigers coach Matt Martin said Rodgers, dressed in street clothes and wearing a sling on his left arm, is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
“He’s one of our playmakers,” Martin said. “As of now, he’s out for the season. He dove for a loose ball in the summer, and he’s been trying to play with it. He’s been trying to battle it. It’s been a family decision to decide to get surgery, and I don’t blame them. That’s a personal decision. ... We’ll move on. What can you do? It’s a done deal.”
East St. Louis, meanwhile, already was playing without its No. 1 running back. Senior Jarrell Anderson tore his left ACL on the first play from scrimmage two weeks ago against Providence Catholic and is sidelined for the season.
Complicating the Flyers’ situation at running back was a right-ankle injury Friday to sophomore DeMonta Witherspoon, who left the game after a 21-yard gain on the first series of the game.
Senior Jigg Brown, who finished off the Flyers’ scoring with a 5-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, has helped offset the absences of Anderson and now Witherspoon. But East St. Louis’ depth will be tested even further in coming weeks.
“The injury bug is killing us right now,” said Sunkett, whose team also is without senior fullback Charlando Robinson. “I don’t know how many other kids we can lose. We’ve lost some great ballplayers so far this year. We haven’t complained as coaches; the kids haven’t complained. It’s just next man up. That says a lot about our kids.
“Hopefully, Witherspoon will get back. We definitely need a two-man backfield because they each have their own dynamic styles. Jigg’s a tough back. He’s just not an every-down back. He weighs 150 pounds. We need that power back to complement him.”
Edwardsville’s lone touchdown came on a 69-yard run by senior Kendall Abdur-Rahmar, who outraced the Flyers’ secondary and made it 8-7 in the first quarter.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm