For the East St. Louis Flyers, the countdown to Champaign and a berth in the Class 7A state championship game is down to one.
The undefeated Flyers (12-0) are ranked No. 1 in Class 7A and will take on Benet Academy at 2 p.m. Saturday at Benedictine University in Lisle.
It’s a tale of two different histories: East St. Louis has seven state championships; Benet Academy is making just its third trip to the semifinals and is in search of its first title.
“This is a game that every team in the state works to play in all year. At the end of the day on Saturday, there will be just 16 teams remaining with a chance to win a state championship,” Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. “We’ve had a good week of practice and we’re ready.”
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Benet Academy, which defeated 4-seeded Rolling Meadows 15-8 a week ago, features a balanced attack on offense and a swarming defensive unit that has allowed only 22 points total in its last two games.
But the Redwings run a standard 4-2-5 defense, the same formation used by the Flyers’ last two opponents. The Flyers have scored 92 points in those games, including a 60-point outburst against Willowbrook last week.
“It’s the same defense we’ve seen the last two weeks, and yes, that’s an advantage for us,” Sunkett said. “If we execute, don’t make mental mistakes, and don’t turn the football over, we’ll be fine. It’s all about execution.
“Offensively, they (Lisle) like to play up tempo and have a very balanced attack.”
One factor may also be the weather. Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 30’s to low 40’s with a chance of rain and winds up to 30 mph.
East St. Louis at (Lisle) Benet Academy
▪ Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday at Benedictine University, 5700 College Avenue, Lisle
▪ Last Week: East St. Louis defeated No. 23 Willowbrook 60-27; Lisle Benet defeated No. 3 Rolling Meadows 15-8
▪ Next Week: The winner advances to the Class 7A state championship game against either No. 16 Plainfield North (10-2) or No. 4 Oak Park Fenwick (11-1) at 4 p.m. on Nov. 26 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
A look at the teams
EAST ST. LOUIS FLYERS (12-0)
▪ Coach: Darren Sunkett (15th year, 131-45)
▪ Rankings: East St. Louis is ranked first in Class 7A
▪ Playoff history: East St. Louis was No. 1 in the state in Class 7A the entire 2016 season. The Flyers are making their 36th playoff appearance and have an 85-28 playoff mark with seven state championships and three second-place finishes. East St. Louis last won the state championship in 2008, when the Flyers defeated Geneva 33-14 in the Class 7A title game. East St. Louis last advanced to the state semifinals in 2013, losing 7-6 at Clyde Jordan Stadium to Oak Lawn Richards in a Class 6A battle. The Flyers are making their fifth semifinal appearance in 15 years under coach Darren Sunkett.
▪ Scouting report: The Flyers have dominated on both sides of the football all season, outscoring their opponents 528-130 while rolling through a 12-0 season. The Flyers defense, which has four shutouts and has allowed seven points or fewer in seven games, is led by all-state linebacker James Knight, who has 126 tackles, 98 solos and four quarterback sacks. Ken Dixon (100 tackles, 91 solo, 9 sacks) and LaMontre’ Harvey (100 tackles, 66 solo, 11 sacks) are two others key players on the Flyers defense. Senior quarterback Reyondous Estes (127 of 226 for 2,254 yards and 22 TDs) is the leader of the offense, which also features running backs Jarrell Anderson (217 carries for 1,284 yards and 18 TDs) and Kevin Brown (114 carries, 755 yards 15 TDs) and all-American wide receiver Jeff Thomas (50 receptions, 1,025 yards.)
LISLE BENET ACADEMY REDWINGS (10-2)
▪ Coach: Patrick New (7th year, 47-30)
▪ Rankings: Unranked
▪ Playoff history: The Redwings are making their fifth-straight trip to the postseason under coach Patrick New and their 20th trip in school history. Benet Academy is 19-19 all time in the playoffs with one second-place finish. The Redwings lost to Morris 31-14 in the 1984 Class 4A state championship game.
▪ Scouting report: A member of the East Suburban Catholic Conference, the Redwings have outscored their opponents 347-210 in a 10-2 season. Quarterback Jack Szanjder completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 2,204 yards and 20 touchdowns, while running back Marty Dosen and fullback/linebacker Alec McEachern are effective in both the running and passing games. Dosen has 913 yards and eight touchdowns on 183 carries, while adding 26 receptions for 173 yards and three scores. McEachern has 205 yards rushing and another 214 in receptions for a total of seven scores. McEachern also recorded 94 tackles, while linebacker Devin Peterson leads the team with 140 tackles and nine quarterback sacks.