Will offenses rule when the Belleville East Lancers play at undefeated Edwardsville? Or will the Tigers’ relentless ground game set the tempo and limit the Lancers’ opportunities?
“I go back and forth,” first-year Lancers coach Kris Stephens said. “They like to run the ball so much. They could eat some clock, like Alton tried to do to us last week. (They might) try to take the air out of the ball and sit on it. That’s kind of what I anticipate them doing. They don’t throw it a whole lot anyway.
“This will be the best defense we’ve gone up against. Our offense is going to have to be functioning. If we can score and keep pace with them, it’s got a chance to really be a high scorer. They can just grind you down and wear you down with that run game. We’re looking forward to the challenge. They’re solid across the board.”
While East should expect a heavy dose of senior quarterback Riley Jones and senior tailbacks Jackson Morrissey and Kendell Davis, Edwardsville must find answers for Lancers seniors Drew Millas at quarterback, Isaiah King at receiver and Moses Holman at running back. They are mainly responsible for East amassing a Southwestern Conference-high 172 points.
“They’re balanced,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin. “They’ve got playmakers all over. That quarterback is their No. 1 guy, and (King) scares me because he’s the type of kid who, even if you have him covered, he can still make plays. He can go over the top of you.”
FRIDAY’S GAME: Belleville East (3-1, 2-0) at Edwardsville (4-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.
RANKINGS: Edwardsville is ranked sixth in the Class 8A state poll and second in the News-Democrat’s large-school poll. East is ranked fourth in the News-Democrat’s large-school poll.
LAST WEEK: Edwardsville won at O’Fallon 24-10. East dismantled visiting Alton 42-14.
LAST MEETING: Edwardsville defeated the Lancers 28-14 in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs on Oct. 31, 2014, in Edwardsville, extending its winning streak in the series to five. The Tigers won the regular-season game against East 22-8 on Oct. 24 in Belleville.
SCOUTING THE LANCERS: Millas (82-for-146, 944 yards) is extremely accurate, with 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He also is East’s second-leading rusher (206 yards, three TDs), behind Holman (355 yards, four TDs). Millas and King are longtime friends and their chemisty carries over onto the field. King already has 28 catches for 434 yards and eight TDs. Quantavius Alexander (20 receptions, 215 yards, one TD) and Anthony Dean (16 catches, 151 yards, four TDs) also are deep threats.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS: Morrissey (408 yards, seven TDs) has gained at least 108 yards in the last three games. Riley has passed for 380 yards and four TDs and run for 333 yards and three TDs. Davis doesn’t have big statistics, but he’s dangerous in space. Defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Desmond Chapple are “nightmares,” according to Stephens, and the Tigers’ secondary of cornerbacks Davis, Chrys Colley and Justin White along with safeties Jourdyn Jones (three interceptions) and Grant Bradley (two interceptions) has played well.
PENALTIES, PENALTIES, PENALTIES: Martin said the Tigers spent the week shoring up mistakes that led to 13 penalties for 115 yards against O’Fallon.
“We had a real good practice (Wednesday). We’re getting better,” Martin said. “Some of those penalties were our fault and we can control them. Some of those penalties were out of our hands. As coaches, we’ve got to take responsibility in it, too. Even if it’s something that’s a good idea, if the kids don’t execute it well, then we shouldn’t do it.”
STEPHENS ON TIGERS’ PENALTIES: “They’re talented enough that they can overcome a lot of their mistakes,” he said. “If they play a clean game, it’s going to be a dogfight all the way. They’re a very talented football team and they’re coached very well. We know we can’t count on them making mistakes and shooting themselves in the foot.”