Plenty of things went wrong for the East St. Louis Flyers on Saturday.
But everything was right in the end for East Side as it extricated a 32-26 victory over Belleville West in a matchup of Southwestern Conference powers.
East Side’s defense twice was fooled on fourth-down fakes, including one that went for a touchdown, and the Flyers were burned by an onside kick to start the second half.
A West punt that deflected off a Flyers player led to Maroons senior Kriston Davis’ 5-yard touchdown run that knotted the game at 26 with 7:09 to play.
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On the Flyers’ next possession, sophomore wideout Lawaun Powell Jr. was tackled near the sidelines after a catch and suffered an injury to his left ankle.
But the tide finally turned for East St. Louis on senior Jigg Brown’s 25-yard touchdown run with 3:47 to play. The Flyers’ defensive front of seniors Terrion Williams Jr., Julian Smith and Walter Baxter, and junior Demond Taylor stiffened on the Maroons’ next possession, and an interception by senior Cortez Moore settled the matter.
“Any time a team has to resort to four or five trick plays ... that’s a team that can’t play with you,” Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said of the Maroons’ fourth-down fakes and onside kick. “They were like a wounded cat in the second quarter. They were desperate, and they pulled every trick play out of their book.
“Our guys responded well. They did one great job not dropping their heads, pulling together and getting each others’ backs — offense, defense and special teams.”
East Side (5-1, 4-0 SWC) led 26-12 at halftime. But West (4-2, 3-1) tied it at 26 on junior quarterback Will Lanxon’s 5-yard touchdown throw to senior Khari Kollore — on what was expected to be a 22-yard field goal attempt — and Davis’ 5-yard touchdown run.
Sunkett was proud of his team for not succumbing to the Maroons’ determined effort.
“That’s how champions respond,” said Sunkett, whose team won the Class 7A state title last year. “You’re going to have these type of games. Our guys responded well. We never got down on ourselves. We kept fighting.
“West tied it, but we knew all along, any team that runs that many trick plays, they’re telling you they don’t trust their offense or defense. We knew they were desperate. We just had to stay focused and play sound football on both sides of the ball.”
Sunkett called the Maroons’ onside kick to open the second half “a great call by (West coach Cameron) Pettus.”
“They recovered and capitalized on it,” Sunkett said. “We expected the onside coming out; our guys just didn’t recover it. We talked about it at halftime and just didn’t make a play. They capitalized on all our mistakes.”
East Side is without senior running back Jarrell Anderson (ACL) for the remainder of the season, and sophomore backup DaMonta Witherspoon is sidelined, too.
But Sunkett said Powell, the Flyers’ second-leading receiver, will be fine after reinjuring his ankle. Senior quarterback Christian Perez left the game for one play with an ankle injury but finished the game despite being slightly hobbled. Senior fullback Charlando Robinson played in his first game of the season and had a two-point conversion catch.
“I really love Christian’s heart,” Sunkett said. “He came out and got back on the field, and led his team to a win. What he did today was big. That’s how you earn your teammates’ respect.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm