On its first three offensive possessions against Belleville East on Saturday, East St. Louis turned the football over twice and had a drive stall near midfield. The Flyers defense was far more efficient and dominating.
Senior linebacker Kenneth Dixon set the stage of things to come as he returned an intercepted pass 35 yards for the first score of the day and the East St. Louis defense completely shut down Belleville East in a 46-0 win in a Southwestern Conference game.
The top-ranked Class 7A team in the state, East St. Louis (7-0, 5-0), overcame a sluggish offensive start as junior running back Kevin Brown rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Reyondous Estes added a pair of touchdowns. But it was the Flyers defense, which recorded its third shutout in the last four weeks, stole the show on a warm fall afternoon at Belleville East.
East St. Louis held a young Lancers squad to a minus 46 yards of offense through 3 1/2 quarters before Belleville East moved the ball 40 yards on its final drive against the Flyers’ defensive reserves.
“We’re playing a lot of young kids. But the way they fly around on defense, they are an extremely difficult team to block,” Belleville East coach Kris Stephens said. “We had some opportunities on offense early and while we’ve struggled in that area this year, East St. Louis plays that man defense and they are just so big and physical.”
Estes, one of the heros in the Flyers win over Edwardsville last week, added 39 yards on the ground, while completing 13-of-23 passes for 181 yards for East St. Louis which can clinch a tie for the SWC title next week with a win over Collinsville.
But Estes, like the rest of the Flyers offense got off to a slow start on Saturday against the 1-6 Lancers, who are 1-4 in SWC action. Estes had his first pass of the day intercepted by defensive back Tyreke Kerley, who returned it to the East St. Louis 4-yard line.
However on the very next play, the Lancers fumbled and East St. Louis got the ball back. The Flyers offense, which was without running back Jarrell Anderson and wide receiver Jeff Thomas, didn’t get its first points of the day until Brown score on a 5-yard run with 9:01 left in the opening half.
East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said Anderson and Thomas were being rested on Saturday.
“The defense did well and we did a very good job there today,” Sunkett said. “We got the ‘W’ and we’re happy with that. But I think maybe some of the kids came in here (Belleville East) thinking it was going to be easy. And we weren’t sharp on offense. Why we would think it would be easy? I don’t know. You’re dealing with kids.
“We made a lot of mistakes — mental mistakes — that we need to clean up moving forward the rest of the year and into the playoffs. But on defense, I thought we did a good job.”
East sophomore quarterback Kienen Waller was a main tagret of the Flyers defense all day. With the ball at his own 25-yard line with just over four minutes left in the first quarter, Waller, under a heavy rush, had a pass deflected into the arms of Dixon, who outran the Lancers offense 35 yards for his interception return for a touchdown and an 8-0 Flyers lead.
It didn’t stay that way long. Unable to move the ball on its next possession, the Lancers punted to the Flyers’ Perez Hall Jr. who, taking the ball on the run, darted through the Lancers special teams for a 40-yard touchdown. The punt return for a touchdown by Hall was his third in the past three weeks. Hall had two punt returns for touchdowns against Belleville West two weeks ago.
Leading 16-0, the Flyers defense continued to apply pressure to the Lancers. At one time in the first half, Belleville East had a minus 51 yards of total offense and finishd the first two quarters with a minus 32 yards.
Brown led the Flyers offense. His four-yard run made the score 22-0 in the second quarter before Estes added a 2-yard score right before halftime to give his team a 30-0 lead.