As Althoff senior running back Malik Easley cut through a hole on the right side Saturday against Rochester, he ran straight into two defenders.
Just when the play seemed over, Easley shook himself free only to run into another linebacker. Again he broke loose and found blocking help at the goal line from Keenen Young and Jordan Goodwin as he finished off a remarkable 10-yard TD run late in the third quarter.
Easley also scored the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter for a 46-42 Class 4A quarterfinal victory over the five-time defending state champs.
“He ran into the D-lineman and the linebacker,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said. “He broke the tackle and everybody thought he was going down, then he spun around and scored a huge touchdown for us.
“To stay inbounds and to run through two tacklers, that was a very strong run. That’s what he can give you.”
If you lock one person down, the other people will eat you alive. We’re not a selfish team. We feel like all of us are good enough to shine one week or the next.
Althoff running back Jaylon Bester
What the 5-foot-10, 155-pound senior also gives Althoff (12-0) is one-half of a productive backfield that includes two 1,000-yard rushers and breakaway threats along with junior Jaylon Bester (5-9, 150).
Althoff plays host to Mater Dei (9-3) in a 1 p.m. semifinal game Saturday at Lindenwood-Belleville.
Bester, who ran for a season-high 196 yards and three TDs on Saturday, has 1,156 yards rushing and 20 TDs. Easley has 1,051 yards and 16 TDs and yet somehow, the pair still are overshadowed at times by the Crusaders’ dazzling array of offensive weaponry.
Along with two 1,000-yard rushers, Althoff has two 1,000-yard receivers in C.J. Coldon and Young and a 3,000-yard passer in senior quarterback Jordan Augustine.
“If you lock one person down, the other people will eat you alive,” said Bester, who has 1,806 yards in his first three varsity seasons along with 29 touchdowns while Easley has 2,509 yards and 31 TDs in four years. “We’re not a selfish team. We feel like all of us are good enough to shine one week or the next.
“We always support each other regardless if we have a bad game or good game. It doesn’t matter as long as we win. We’re all one family.”
Turner said there was a time where Easley and Bester had a bit of a friendly rivalry. It’s only natural as two pieces of a high-flying offense capable of breaking a touchdown on any play from a variety of sources.
Malik is stronger, but once Malik hits the sidelines he’s like a track sprinter. The guys always say once you see his head go back .you know he’s not getting caught.
Althoff coach Ken Turner on Malik Easley
“It was like a friendly competition, they’d go back and forth talking about who’s going to do this and who’s going to do that,” Turner said. “Now they’re with each other all the time and good friends. When one goes in and does something special, the other one usually goes in and does something special.
“If I see Malik break one, I expect Jaylon to come back and break one also. They feed off each other and it’s been pretty cool to watch.”
Not for opposing defenses.
Both have blazing speed, but give Bester the slightest seam on the outside and most times he doesn’t stop running until he reaches the end zone. He had a 60-yard TD run Saturday that left several defenders grasping at air and earlier this season ignited his team with a 99-yard TD run against Centralia.
“He was one-on-one with the safety and the safety had him squared him up,” Turner said. “He sidestepped him so fast the safety missed and he just kept going. That was an incredible run. He’s one of the quickest backs I’ve coached.
“Being able to stop on a dime and cut really quick and then hit another gear after he cuts ... he’s one of the best I’ve coached at doing that. Its almost like a video game with him, to be able to stop and go back and forth like that.”
Turner said Easley has a good combination of speed and power.
“Malik is stronger, but once Malik hits the sidelines he’s like a track sprinter,” Turner said. “The guys always say once you see his head go back .you know he’s not getting caught.”
Bester quickly endeared himself to teammates and coaches with his relentless style. Bester’s father, Marcus Bester, was a starting cornerback on the 1989 East St. Louis team that won a state title and also the 1988 team that finished second.
“He loves the big games,” Turner said of Jaylon Bester. “He doesn’t shy away from anything, he’s a small guy and he’s got a huge heart. If I would let him play defense, he’d be a really good defensive back too, but I hold him back.”
LINE PAVES THE WAY
Asked to come up with some insight on Easley, Bester said “He’s a very humble person. We’re not about stats and all that stuff. We’re all about what we can do for the team and how we can make ourselves better.”
Easley likes Bester’s raw speed and moves.
“He’s just very, very fast,” Easley said. “He makes his moves very quick, even in practice he does everything quick. If he gets like a little seam, he hits that seam very fast and it’s hard to bring him down.”
Both backs were quick to praise the offensive line for allowing them opportunities to create damage downfield.
The line includes senior left tackle Bryce Evans (5-10, 265), junior left guard James Simoneaux (5-9, 245), junior center Sam Fitch (5-10, 225), senior right guard Chris Leshikar (5-10, 212) and junior right tackle James Townsend (6-1, 278).
“Our line doesn’t get much praise, but I feel like they’re the most underrated people on our team,” Easley said. “They’re the ones that get us past the first line of defense. We wouldn’t have the statistics that we have today if it wasn’t for them.”
Turner also praised his line’s effectiveness, which include keeping people off of Augustine.
“They’re quiet kids, but very smart kids,” Turner said. “Chris Leshikar is No. 1 in his class and has got a 4.0 (GPA). I told him I’m I’m proud of the fact we have a football player that’s No. 1 in his class to go along with the great play that he’s given us all year.
“The lowest GPA in the group is 3.5. They’re able to adjust and make changes and think nothing of it.”