East St. Louis denies Prairie Ridge state championship
The solemn look on the faces of Prairie Ridge's players spoke volumes.
The Wolves didn't care that they were outmanned by what East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett calls "the best offense in Flyers' history." They didn't care that they were the substantial underdog for the first time in four trips to the Class 6A state championship.
Their own NCAA Division I prospect had been on crutches for a month and their top playmaker went out with a leg injury on the first play of the second quarter, but they kept fighting.
"We came here to win the game," Wolves fullback-safety Kyle Koelblinger said. "We didn't do that, but at the same time we proved that football is a team sport, no matter how many athletes you got, you can play against anyone."
Eventually, things slipped away from the Wolves in the fourth quarter. East St. Louis defensive lineman Darran Perkins picked up a fumble and raced 92 yards midway through the fourth quarter and the Flyers pulled away to a 43-21 win Saturday at Northern Illinois University's Huskie Stadium.
East St. Louis (14-0) denied Prairie Ridge (12-2) third state title in four years, while winning its ninth in school history.
"They did everything here tonight we asked them to," Wolves coach Chris Schremp said. "East St. Louis has some unbelievable talent and the margin for error is so slim. I thought we hung with them in the first half. We had a couple injuries that hurt us. They were able to make some big plays at key moments. I can't say enough about the way our senior class played. it's a tough loss for them, but they can't hang their heads."
Prairie Ridge lost junior fullback-linebacker Carter Evans, who has offers from Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, with a broken ankle in its playoff opener. The Wolves lost running back Taidhgin Trost, their most explosive threat, with a leg injury early in the second quarter. He had four carries for 27 yards and caught a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Prairie Ridge opened the second half with a drive to East St. Louis' 4. On fourth-and-goal, the Flyers came up with a crucial stop. Schremp did not consider taking a field goal.
"You have to score touchdowns against this team," Schremp said. "They score so much, we have to score touchdowns. We came here to win, not keep it close. We wanted to win, and that's why we went for it."
The Wolves managed to stay close in the second half. East St. Louis led, 28-14, when Prairie Ridge had first-and-goal from the Flyers' 8. As quarterback Connor Lydon meshed with Koelblinger, the ball got away and Perkins scooped it up and scored for a 36-14 lead.
"That was a drive where we needed to capitalize and get it to a one-possession game, and unfortunately we didn't end up doing that," Lydon said.
The Flyers added another touchdown after an interception. Then Lydon hooked up with running back Blake Brown for a 34-yard score with 53 seconds remaining.
"They're a great team, they have athletes at every position," Wolves linebacker Matt Loucks said. "For the first half we played pretty well, but then we started to fall apart. We let the score kind of get to us a little bit. We were kind of rattled."
Sunkett thought the stop after halftime was critical for the Flyers.
"It was deadlocked 14-14 and could have gone either way," Sunkett said. "We challenged our kids at halftime and they responded well. We knew they had the ball and didn't want those guys to go up on us."