High School Football

East St. Louis, Edwardsville clash at top of Southwestern Conference

Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin and his Tigers will entertain the East St. Louis Flyers in a battle of area powers Friday.
Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin and his Tigers will entertain the East St. Louis Flyers in a battle of area powers Friday. znizami@bnd.com

Under the leadership of coach Darren Sunkett, the East St. Louis Flyers, losing streaks in the Southwestern Conference have been a rare occurrence.

One week after a 52-0 win ended the Flyers two-game skid against Belleville West, East St. Louis will look to end a three-game regular season losing streak to Edwardsville when they take on the Tigers with first place in the SWC on the line beginning at 7 p.m. Friday.

“No question this game has turned into a real rivalry the past few years and they have had our number in the last three years. They’ve been able to come away with victories,” Sunkett said on Wednesday. “Our goal this week is come out, execute our game plan and hopefully get back on the winning track against those guys.”

A huge turnout is expected when East St. Louis (5-0, 3-0), ranked first in the Associated Press Class 7A poll, battles the Tigers (5-0, 3-0), ranked seventh in Class 8A. At stake is sole possession of the lead in the SWC with just three weeks remaining.

“I would think the winner would be in a good position for the SWC title with three weeks to go,” Tigers coach Matt Martin said. “There’s no secrets. They (East St. Louis players) know what is at stake and our kids know what is at stake. The team that comes out and executes the best will be the one that wins the football game.”

And in the head-to-head series during the last three years, its been the Tiers who have executed the best.

Edwardsville enters play with a 30-game Southwestern Conference winning streak. The last team to defeat the Tigers in league was the Flyers in 2012 (14-7), but Edwardsville got a measure of revenge by beating the Flyers 21-18 in the playoffs later that season.

Edwardsville has since beaten East St. Louis three times in a row. The win last year came by forfeit due to the East St. Louis teachers strike.

Friday’s game features many of the top players in the state. In the cases of Edwardsville defensive end A.J. Epenesa and East St. Louis wide receiver Jeff Thomas, it has two of the top high school players in the nation.

According to Rivals.com, Epenesa is the No. 1 defensive end recruit in the country, the No. 1 overall recruit in Illinois and the 36th best overall recruit in the nation. Also one of the top high school track and field athletes in the nation in the discus, Epenesa has committed to the University of Iowa.

The recruiting website ranks Thomas as the 12th best receiver recruit in the county, the 78th best overall recruit in the country and the second-best overall recruit in Illinois. He has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State along with many others.

KICKOFF: East St. Louis (5-0, 3-0) at Edwardsville (5-0, 3-0), 7 p.m. Friday

RANKINGS: East St. Louis is ranked first in the Associated Press Class 7A state poll; Edwardsville is ranked seventh in the Class 8A state poll.

LAST WEEK: East St. Louis defeated Belleville West 52-0; Edwardsville defeated Belleville East 49-13 last week.

LAST MEETING: Edwardsville defeated East St. Louis by forfeit last season due to the East St. Louis teachers strike.

SCOUTING EAST ST. LOUIS: With the exception of a hard fought win over CBC in week two, the Flyers have rolled to wins over state power Providence Catholic, and SWC foes Alton, Granite City and Belleville West.

The offense is led by senior quarterback Reyondous Estes (46-of-95, 925 yards and 10 TD’s), while junior running backs Jarrell Anderson (575 yards, 8 TD’s) and Kevin Brown (285 yards, 6 TD;s) have been nothing short of sensational. Thomas, injury free for the first time since early in the season, broke loose for over 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns last week while Charlando Robinson (15 catches, 270 yards, 4 TD’s) and Perez Hall have helped take some of the pressure off Thomas. Hall returned a pair of kicks back for touchdowns last week, while the Flyers defense has back-to-back shutouts and hasn’t allowed a point in the last 10 quarters.

“They are a pretty complete football team,” Martin said of the Flyers. “They have (Jeff) Thomas on the one side and you can choose to double team which leaves you a vulnerable on the other side. The quarterback (Estes) can beat you with his arm and his legs, the running backs are solid and their special teams are very explosive. Defensively, I don’t think they’ve given up many points.”

SCOUTING EDWARDSVILLLE: Like East St. Louis, the Tigers have been in cruise control the last three weeks after non-conference victories over Quincy and Rock Island.

“I think we’re getting better each week. Our non-conference games were against two good teams. Quincy and Rock Island may not have have the records they would like, but both had good teams,” Martin said.

Running back Dionte Rogers (83 carries, 725 yards, 13 TD’s) leads the Tigers offense which also features quarterback Brendan Dickman (26-of-43, 375 yards, 5 TD); 35 rush, 105 yards, TD) and wide receivers Daval Torres (5 rushes179 yards, TD ; 8 receptions, 125 yards) and Reginald Wilson (3 receptions 51 yards, 2 TD) have also been keys. On defense, Epenesa (16 tackles, 2 sacks) and linebackers Ryan Connelly (23 tackles, sack); Collin Cox (27 tackles).

Like Martin with the Flyers, Sunkett has a healthy respect for Martin and the Tigers squad.

“Matt is a good coach and he always has his team well prepared,” Sunkett said. “He’s got a solid passing game that they can use and they can run the football very well when need be. And on defense they are always very good. That’s one of the areas that they are know for. We just need to go into the game and execute our game plan.”

Note: The Edwardsville Athletic Departement announced the gates will open at 5 p.m. on Friday.