High School Football

Witherspoon’s big day lifts East St. Louis past Chicago Morgan Park in Class 6A playoffs

The East St. Louis Flyers’ quest for a ninth state championship got off to an efficient and successful start Saturday at Clyde Jordan Stadium.

Senior running back DaMonta Witherspoon ran for four touchdowns and the Flyers defense overwhelmed Chicago Morgan Park 44-0 in a first round Class 6A playoff game.

Ranked first in the Class 6A state poll, the top-seeded Flyers scored twice in a 69 second span midway in the first quarter then added a pair of scores 1 minute, 37 seconds apart in the second quarter to take a 26-0 halftime lead.

Witherspoon, who finished with 101 yards on 18 carries, scored on runs of 22, 9, 4 and 2 yards and with senior wide receiver Antonio Johnson were the offensive stars for the Flyers on a day when they also committed four turnovers.

“We were sloppy today,” Flyers coach Darren Sunkett said. “We’ve got to clean some things up. But we got the W.”

Johnson, one of the top defensive backs in the nation, gave the Flyers an early lead when he scored on a hitch pattern, taking a pass from quarterback Tyler Macon and sprinting 72 yards for the score. The touchdown came with 5:41 remaining in the first quarter and put his team up 6-0.

Morgan Park, hindered by the Chicago Teachers Strike which resulted in just one day of practice, could never put together a sustained attack against the Flyers defense, which forced three turnovers

Making the 300-mile trek south, the 16th-seeded Mustangs (5-5), behind junior quarterback Camron Fulton and senior running back Ar’Juan Bester, moved the football into Flyers territory twice in the first half.

“We couldn’t really ever sustain anything against them. But we’re not the only ones that have had that problem,” Mustangs coach Chris James said. “They might be the most athletic team I’ve ever seen in high school football.”

“We only had the one day of practice because of the strike. Had we had more time, we would have played better.”

A fumble recovery by senior Kendrick Scarborough set up Witherspoon’s first touchdown and junior defensive back Jaylen Reed added an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter.

Byrd’s return came with 10:44 left in the third quarter and increased the Flyers lead to 32-0. Witherspoon added his fourth score of the day, this one a 2-yard run and Johnson added a 22-yard touchdown reception from Macon, who threw for 260 yards.

“The first one was a hitch pattern and the field just opened up,” Johnson said. “The second one was on a screen pass.

“Overall, it was a good win. We need to keep working and we need to keep going forward though.”

The win lifts East St. Louis (10-0) into a second round game next weekend against ninth-seeded Rock Island, which defeated Dunlap on Saturday.

Dates and times for second round games will be announced Monday.

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.