High School Football

Road to a championship: East St. Louis Flyers season retrospective

Fourteen straight wins, multiple thrilling moments, and a historic program’s eighth state football championship.

Here’s a week-by-week, highlight-by-highlight look back at how the East St. Louis Flyers added to a great tradition:

WEEK 1

East St. Louis 34, Providence Catholic 3

The Flyers played their first game since a teachers' strike brought a premature halt to their 2015 season in week 5 and, with a victory, set the tone for the rest of their championship run. It was behind the passing combination of Reyondous Estes to Jeff Thomas and a shutdown defense that vaulted East St. Louis to a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 34-3 victory. Thomas finished with five receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He also intercepted a pass. Estes was 11 of 22 for 245 yards. Providence, meanwhile, was held to just 10 net yards of offense in the first half.

WEEK 2

East St. Louis 32, CBC 28

More than 8,000 fans at Clyde Jordan Stadium were treated to an exhilarating back-and-forth finale of the three-game Gateway Scholars Football Classic. The "City of Champions," saved the best for last. Running back Jarrell Anderson scored on a 10-yard run with 28 seconds remaining in the Flyers’ thrilling win over the Cadets. Anderson erupted for 235 yards and three TDs on 40 carries.

WEEK 3

East St. Louis 58, Alton 13

Thirty-six unanswered points to start the game. Perez Hall Jr. returned the opening kickoff 98 yards and East Side got three touchdowns from Kevin Brown, two from Charlando Robinson, and one each for Ken Dixon and Anderson. LaMontre Harvey had four of the Flyers' 10 quaterback sacks.

WEEK 4

East St. Louis 44, Granite City 0

Anderson and Estes each rushed for more than 100 yards. Brown found the endzone twice. Robinson, Anderson, Estes and Markevion Darough also had touchdowns to run the East St. Louis record to 4-0.

WEEK 5

East St. Louis 52, Belleville West 0

Belleville West had defeated its arch-rival in each of the two previous seasons. It was, in fact, a Maroons victory that put an end to the Flyers strike-shortened season of 2015. East St. Louis came out in a flurry to recapture the historic "Bell," the traditional trophy put up from grabs annually between the two long-time rivals. The Flyers held West to 137 yards of offense, while rolling to 525 of their own. Estes completed 15-of-23 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Thomas caught six of those passes for 205 yards and two scores. Hall also had two touchdowns while Anderson and Robinson had one each.

WEEK 6

East St. Louis 20, Edwardsville 10

Estes and Anderson scored on short touchdown runs in the second quarter and senior linebacker James Knight put the game away with an interception return late in the fourth quarter as East St. Louis snapped Edwardsville's 30-game Southwestern Conference winning streak. It also was the first loss for the Tigers, who didn't lose again until falling to Glenbard West in the the Class 8A quarterfinal game. East St. Louis fell behind 10-0 in the first nine minutes, but led by Knight, an all-Southwestern Conference linebacker the past two years, the Flyers defense was able to hold the Tigers scoreless the rest of the way. Estes and Anderson each scored touchdowns on short runs and Markevion Darough recovered a fumble in the end zone.

WEEK 7

East St. Louis 46, Belleville East 0

The Lancers had a stadium full of alumni celebrating the school's 50th anniversary, but the Flyers for focused on running their record to 7-0. East Side held Belleville East to negative yards through three quarters, while piling on the points on Dixon's 28-yard interception return, Hall's 46-yard punt return, two short scoring runs each by Estes and Brown.

WEEK 8

East St. Louis 60, Collinsville 0

The Flyers triggered the running game clock for the start of the second half with their 41-0 lead at the intermission. Anderson had three first-half touchdowns and Brown had three more in the second half. Estes, Thomas and Eric Owens Jr. also scored. Collinsville was held to 50 total yards as the Flyers hit the Kahoks quarterback nine times for losses.

WEEK 9

East St. Louis 46, O'Fallon 14

The Flyers clinched the Southwestern Conference final and closed their regular season at a perfect 9-0. The Panthers had uncommon success moving the football against East Side with senior running back Mason Hewitt leading the way with 78 yards rushing. But Anderson rolled for 114 yards and a touchdown and Estes completed passes to six different receivers for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Knight had 14 tackles to lead the defense and Malcolm Bell returned an interception 32 yards.

PLAYOFFS ROUND 1

East St. Louis 44, Lincoln-Way West 7

Scoring in almost every way imaginable, the undefeated and top-ranked Flyers rolled over Lincoln-Way West, whose veteran coach left impressed.

"Before today I thought (Homewood-Flossmoor) was the best team I’ve seen and best we’ve played. But after today, I would say that East St. Louis is right with them," said Lincoln-Way coach Dave Ernst.

"That’s a very good football team."

Estes threw two touchdown passes and Thomas solidified his nation-wide reputation by returning a punt 74 yards for a touchdown.

James Knight and Anderson also scored for the Flyers.

PLAYOFFS ROUND 2

East St. Louis 32, Glenbard North 28

Estes scrambled away from pressure and completed an off-balanced 23-yard touchdown pass to Thomas with just three seconds left on the game clock.

The Flyers had out-gained Glenbard North by more than 200 yards of total offense, but a pair of turnovers deep in their own territory set the Panthers up for touchdowns that kept it close.

The lead changed hands three times in a thrilling fourth quarter, including Thomas' miracle catch.

Estes completed 9-of-15 passes for 209 yards and rushed for 103 more. Thomas caught seven of those passes for 190 yards and two scores. Anderson rushed 21 times for 138 yards with touchdowns of 33 and 58 yards.

QUARTERFINAL

East St. Louis 60, Willowbrook 27

Estes connected on a pair of touchdowns to Thomas, while Anderson and Kevin Brown combined for five additional scores in a route at Villa Park.

Sunkett said the first priority was to establish the run, which the Flyers did to the tune of 330 total rushing yards.

"We feel that with our size up front and the guys that we have running the football, that there aren’t many defenses that can stop us," Sunkett said.

SEMIFINAL

East St. Louis 20, Benet Academy 0

Anderson rushed for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the East Side defense was the star of the game.

The Flyers held the Benet Academy offense to just 109 yards, 82 of which came on the Redwings' final drive. They sacked Benet quarterback Jack Sznajder twice, intercepted him three times and stuffed the Redwings' running game to negative-29 yards.

"They absolutely flew to the ball; they are so fast and so aggressive," said Snzajder. "When you play a team like that with so many athletes, it’s really tough to execute an offense."

The win sent East St. Louis to its first state championship game since 2008.

CHAMPIONSHIP

East St. Louis 26, Plainfield North 13

East St. Louis brought home its eighth state football championship on a chilly November evening in Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois. It was once again a solid defensive effort and an opportunistic, big-play offense that doomed a Flyers’ opponent.

Estes and Thomas hooked up for touchdown passes of 61 and 43 yards and Knight caught another from seven yards out.

Senior defensive back Eric Owens got into the action by intercepting a Brady Miller pass and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown, the longest interception return in an IHSA title game.

Plainfield North, meanwhile, was held to 37 yards of offense as the Flyers mounted a 26-0 lead.

“These kids did a great job. They are the ones who did the work in the weight room in the summer and bought into what the coaching staff was saying,” Sunkett said following the game. “To have the opportunity to even get here (the title game) is something that a lot of people never get to experience. To be able to win it with this bunch of kids means a lot. I’m just so proud of this football team.”

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