The East St. Louis Flyers are out to finish another chapter in their football record book.
The top-ranked Class 7A football team in the state will battle the Plainfield North Tigers in the state title game at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
The Flyers (13-0) are making their 11th trip to the state title game and looking for their first state crown since the 2008 season. A large contingent of East St. Louis fans are expected to make the 170 mile trip to see East Side tangle with Plainfield North, which is playing in its first championship game.
Plainfield North is led by Tim Kane, the former head coach at Collinsville High School, who has yet to beat the Flyers in five attempts.
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Flyers coach Darren Sunkett, who guided East St. Louis to the 2008 state title on the same Memorial Stadium field, knows the Tigers won’t be a pushover.
“They defeated the No. 1 seed in their bracket (Bradley-Bourbonnais) and the No. 4 seed (Oak Park) Fenwick to get here. Like us, they have won four playoff games the last four weeks. They deserve to be here,” Sunkett said. “We have a great deal of respect for Coach (Tim) Kane and the job he has done with his football program.
“They have a very balanced team. They have a very high-quality quarterback and a running back who has rushed for over 1,500 yards to go along with a very solid defense. We know coach Kane will have his team ready to play. Our kids are ready too. This is what they’ve waited for and worked toward for over a year.”
A state championship completes a goal the Flyers set for themselves after the fifth week of the 2015 season, when a teachers’ strike brought their season to a premature end.
“Every time you get to a state championship game its special. There aren’t a lot of teams that get to experience something like this and when the opportunity comes, you do whatever you can to make the most out of it,” Sunkett said. “What these kids have been able to achieve this year is something that takes a lot of character and determination. The coaching staff and myself couldn’t be any prouder of this football team.
“It was so disappointing last year for our kids not to have the opportunity to compete in the playoffs. To their credit, they just continued to work in the off-season, in the weight room and everyday in practice just to have a chance to play in this game. They’ve earned this opportunity.”
East St. Louis vs. Plainfield North
▪ Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois, Champaign
▪ Last Week: East St. Louis defeated No. 11 (Lisle) Benet Academy 20-0; Plainfield North defeated No. 4 (Oak Park) Fenwick 18-17 in overtime
EAST ST. LOUIS FLYERS (13-0)
▪ Coach: Darren Sunkett (15th year, 132-45)
▪ Rankings: East St. Louis ended the regular season ranked first in Class 7A and is the No. 2 overall seed in the Class 7A playoffs
▪ Playoff history: The Flyers are making their 36th playoff appearance and have an 86-28 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.
▪ Scouting report: The offense is led by Champaign News-Gazette State Player of the Year in senior wide receiver Jeff Thomas (55 receptions, 1,093 yards, 12 TD) and the Flyers have outscored their 13 opponents 548-130. Quarterback and University of Missouri recruit Reyondous Estes (133 of 237, 2,344 yards, 23 TD) had an all-state caliber season while junior running backs Jarrell Anderson (244 carries, 1,391 yards, 20 TD) and Kevin Brown (131 carries, 801 yards, 15 TD) help give the Flyers a balanced attack. The defense, which posted its fifth shutout of the season last week in a 20-0 semi-final win over Benet Academy, has given up 10 points per game. Seniors James Knight (137 tackles, 107 solos), Ken Dixon (111 tackles, 87 solos) and LaMontre’ Harvey (112 tackles, 76 solos, 11 sacks) lead the way. Dixon Harvey and Eric Owens Jr have combined for 32 of the Flyers 58 quarterback sacks.
PLAINFIELD NORTH TIGERS (11-2)
▪ Coach: Tim Kane (11th year, 58-46)
▪ Rankings: Unranked during the season; 16th seed in Class 7A playoffs
▪ Playoff history: Under former Collinsville coach Tim Kane, the Tigers are making their sixth playoff appearance and third in a row. Heading into the 2016 postseason, Plainfield North had not won a playoff game and was 0-5 in school history. In reaching the Class 7A state title game, the Tigers have defeated three higher seeded teams, including No. 1 overall seed Bradley-Bourbonnais 49-20 in the second round.
▪ Scouting report: A member of the Southwest Prairie Conference, the Tigers enter the title game with an eight-game winning streak and have outscored their 13 opponents by a 463-102 margin this season. Quarterback Brady Miller (139-of-238, 1,898 yards, 20 TD) leads the Plainfield North offense that also includes running back Tyler Hoosman (226 carries, 1,627 yards, 26 TD). But the strength of the team is a 4-2-5 defense. Linebackers Will Stoll (79 tackles, 6 sacks) and JJ Frey (85 tackles) lead the Tigers defense that also includes one of the top defensive linemen in the Chicago area in An Ekowa (49 tackles, 9 sacks)
The East St. Louis Flyers are 7-3 in 10 trips to the state title game
- 1974 Class 5A: Glenbrook North 19, East St. Louis 13
- 1979 Class 5A: East St. Louis 20, (Burbank) St. Laurence 14
- 1983 Class 6A: East St. Louis 13, Addison Trail 0
- 1984 Class 6A: East St. Louis 38, Downers Grove South 6
- 1985 Class 6A: East St. Louis 46, (Chicago) Brother Rice 0
- 1987 Class 6A: (Arlington Heights) Hersey 26, East St. Louis 6
- 1988 Class 6A: (Chicago) Mount Carmel 21, East St. Louis 7
- 1989 Class 6A: East St. Louis 55, (Harvey) Thornton 8
- 1991 Class 6A: East St. Louis 48, (Carol Stream) Glenbard North 6
- 2008 Class 7A: East St. Louis 33, Geneva 14