Benet Academy third-year starting quarterback Jack Sznajder had led the Redwings to 10 wins and 29 points per game entering the Illinois 7A semifinal game.
Saturday, he found nothing but East St. Louis Flyers swarming around the football like bees around a hive.
“They absolutely flew to the ball; they are so fast and so aggressive,” said Snzajder, an All-East Suburban Catholic Conference selection his sophomore and junior seasons. “When you play a team like that with so many athletes, it’s really tough to execute an offense.”
On a windy Chicago day, it was the Flyers defense that led the way to the 20-0 victory and propelled East St. Louis to its 11th state championship game. It also was the unit’s sixth shutout of the season.
East Side (13-0) held Benet Academy to 109 yards of total offense, including negative-29 yards rushing. Of the Redwings’ 13 attempts to run, just one resulted in a single, positive yard.
We just focused on taking away the run so they had to come out and throw the ball.
Markevion Darough, East St. Louis cornerback
“We just focused on taking away the run so they had to come out and throw the ball,” said East Side cornerback Markevion Darough.
That put all the pressure on Sznajder.
The Benet Academy senior signal caller finished the day 9-of-33 for 138 yards, 82 of which came during the Redwings’ final possession.
He was sacked twice and intercepted by the Flyers three times, once each by Darough, Malcolm Bell and Jeff Thomas.
The Redwings’ skilled position players couldn’t match the Flyers in their man-to-man defense, which set up a numbers game Benet Academy couldn’t win.
“There are 11 guys out there on our offense, and we are allowed five eligible receivers,” said Benet coach Pat New. “They can man-up on our five receivers and bring six (on the pass rush). With a quarterback throwing and five guys running routes, you’re left with five guys blocking against six rushing. Even if you leave a running back in, they just bring the extra guy.
“Credit them. You’ve got to win the one of those one-on-one match-ups and were weren’t able to do that.”
East St. Louis held a narrow 8-0 lead at halftime, despite four trips inside the Benet 20-yard-line. Oddly, that set up another disadvantage for Benet Academy, which was forced to start drives deep in their own territory.
When you play a team like that with so many athletes it's really tough to execute an offense.
Jack Sznajder, Benet Academy quarterback
The Flyers sustained one 80-yard drive that was capped by Jarrell Anderson’s eight-yard touchdown run. But other scoring drives started on a short field thanks to the defense.
East Side’s first touchdown—a six-yard run by Anderson—was set up by a Benet Academy punt into the wind from its own 9-yard line. A final game-clinching score—a 32-yard pass from Reyondous Estes to James Knight—was set up by Thomas’ third-quarter interception, which gave the Flyers a first down at the Benet 35.
East St. Louis will face Plainfield North in the Class 7A state championship game next Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
“You never expect to dominate a game, especially at this stage,” said East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett. “Our secondary really stepped up this week and played lights out. We definitely needed those guys, and they came up big.”