On the sidelines for most of the season with a high ankle sprain, East St. Louis sophomore DeMonta Witherspoon continued to make up for lost time Saturday at Clyde Jordan Stadium.
Witherspoon rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns as East St. Louis defeated the Buffalo Grove Bison 40-18 in a Class 7A second round playoff game.
Seeded 10th, the Bison (9-2) stunned the Flyers just 19 seconds into the game when quarterback Connor Adams connected with Matthew Prawica on a 55-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead. But when Flyers junior quarterback Eric Johnson scored on a 7-yard run and Witherspoon added a 28-yard scoring run just three minutes apart early in the second quarter, East St. Louis (10-1) had the lead for good.
“(Witherspoon) was hungry. Anytime you miss eight weeks — or whatever time he misses — you are hungry to get back in there and help the teammates out,” Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. “I commend him for showing the diligence to go to therapy every day and do what he needed to in order to play again. he did a good job.
“I thought our quarterback (Eric) Johnson did a good job. We still have some kinks to work out, but we’re moving on.”
Witherspoon added scoring runs of 5 and 21 yards, while Johnson, making just his second playoff start, added three touchdowns for the defending Class 7A state champions, who moved into quarterfinal round game with Chicago Mount Carmel next week.
The 18th-seeded Caravan (8-3) stunned second-seeded Normal 14-13 on Saturday in Chicago. Official third-round sites, dates and times will be announced Monday.
For now, Witherspoon is just happy to be back in the Flyers backfield.
“It was tough sitting out. I mean, I would go watch the games, but I hated not being able to help,” Witherspoon said. “I just kept going to therapy twice a day — in the morning and then after school. It eventually got better to where I could play.
“I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting a little stronger each day. It felt good to go out and help the team win today.”
The Bison were sharp early on Saturday.
Adams completed his first eight attempts, and Buffalo Grove moved the ball well for much of the first half. But when East Side got the first of senior defensive back Cortez Moore’s two interceptions, it set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Johnson that stretch the Flyers’ lead to 20-10 early in the third quarter.
It was the beginning of the end for Buffalo Grove, which committed four of its five turnovers in the second half.
Moore returned his second interception 49 yards to the Bison 5-yard line to set up Witherspoon for another score. The Flyers led 26-10.
Adams connected with Dominic Lelli on a 51-yard touchdown pass that was tipped by a pair of East St. Louis defenders as Buffalo Grove cut the lead to 26-18, but coach Jeffrey Vlk’s team could get no closer.
“I thought we played well. East St. Louis has so much speed and talent, but I thought we stayed right with them,” Vlk said. “A lot of teams come down here, and they get caught up in the tradition of East St. Louis and are kind of in awe. In some cases, its almost like you are down 14-0 before you even take the field.
“I thought we did a good job of addressing that, and we were ready to play. The turnovers hurt, sure. But we felt like we had to take some risks. I’m proud of how we played.”
Witherspoon added a 21-yard run with 6:42 left in the game as the Flyers’ lead grew to 32-18. Johnson then added a 3-yard run in the final three minutes to close out the scoring.