BELLEVILLE - Edwardsville High's football team pulled off a comeback for the ages on Friday night, rallying from a 24-7 halftime and 31-14 third quarter deficit to go ahead, then climaxed a see-saw fourth quarter when Clayton Lakatos took a Jake Curry screen pass 50 yard for a touchdown with 2:51 left to give the Tigers a dramatic 49-45 win over Belleville East Friday night at Charlie Woodford Field.
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The win improves Edwardsville to 7-0 and sets up a Southwestern Conference championship game next week at home against East St. Louis, who defeated Alton 59-0 on Friday. Both teams are unbeaten in the conference.
The Tigers faced adversity practically all evening and it was something that Tiger head coach Kelsey Pickering had talked to the team about in the days leading up to the game against the Lancers.
"Well, you know, it was one of those things we talked about all week was adversity," Pickering said. "We're going to see it throughout the season in different games and tonight, we got a great look at that. And that's a heck of a team over there. They did a great job tonight of fighting back and just not stopping. We talk about finishing, and tonight, we were able to do that, fortunately."
Coming back from the deficit the Tigers were in, then getting the last score of a see-saw game in the fourth quarter was a very big thing for the team.
"We got fortunate there," Pickering said. "That's a good team right there. They're going to continue to win ball games, so it was a great test for us to find out where we're at, and there's a lot of things we've got to get right. And so, it's always nice to come out with a victory, especially that type of game. It was just a great high school football game."
The Tigers turned the game around by scoring three touchdowns after trailing 31-14 to take a 35-31 lead, after which the lead exchanged hands four times before Edwardsville was able to hold on and take the win.
"We talk about all three phases, and that's one of them," Pickering said, referring to the Tigers recovering a kickoff deep in Lancer territory to set up a touchdown. "We've gotta produce, offense, defense and special teams and again, that was another great one tonight, where we were able to do that in all three phases. And it contributed us to get a victory over a very, very good Belleville East team."
In fact, it was a type of game that no one deserved to lose, in which both teams left it entirely on the field and gave their all for the entire 48 minutes.
"No, and that's the thing," Pickering said. "A game like this, excitement, things going back and forth. You hate someone has to lose, but somebody does. And fortunately for us, we're on the other end of it and the right end of it."
The tone was set on the game's first possession, where Justin Spears picked up 75 yards on the game's second play from scrimmage, then went in from one yard out three plays later to give the Lancers a 7-0 lead, which turned out to be the only score of the quarter. On their first possession of the second quarter, quarterback Armon Vinson used his passing and running abilities to take East to the Edwardsville 15, but the drive stalled out and Grayson Parker kicked a 30-yard field goal to extend the Lancer lead to 10-0.
The Tigers were able to cut the lead, thanks in part to a pair of face mask penalties against East that put the ball on their 12-yard line, where Curry ran in from 12 yards out to cut the lead to 10-7. It didn't take the Lancers long to answer, as Vinson hit Spears with a pass that brought the ball to the Tigers 34 and one play later, Vinson and Chase Boyd connected with a nifty 33-yard touchdown pass to extend the Lancer lead to 17-7.
On the next Lancer possession after the Tigers went three-and-out, Vinson hit Kaleel Waller with a 55-yard pass for another touchdown that put East ahead at the half 24-7. It was important for the Tigers to score on the opening possession of the second half, which they did when Curry ran in from four yards out to cut the East lead to 24-14 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
On the next Tiger possession, Simeon Mitchell blocked a punt, where Spears recovered on the two and took it in to increase the Lancer lead to 31-14. The Tigers started their comeback right away, with Curry running in from five yards to cut the lead again to 31-21 with 3:03 left in the third, then Curry hit Gavyn Yates from 40 yards out on a nice catch-and-run to give pull the Tigers to within 31-28 with 24.0 seconds left in the third.
Edwardsville got the break they needed on the ensuing kickoff when a Tiger player recovered the ball on the East 27. and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Curry hit Kellin Brnfre with a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Edwardsville its first lead of the night at 35-31.
It started the see-saw fourth quarter. The first lead change came when Vinson hit Waller down the sidelines from 40 yards out to give the Lancers a 38-35 advantage. The Tigers came right back when Jaylon Smith ran for a 12-yard touchdown with 4:04 left to give Edwardsville the lead back at 42-38. Then, with 3:07 to go, Vinson and Waller connected again, this time from 32 yards, to give the Lancers the lead back at 45-42.
On the first play after the kickoff, curry hit Lakatos on a perfectly executed screen pass, with Lakatos going 50 yards to give Edwardsville a 49-45 lead. It turned out to be the final as the Tiger defense stopped Vinson and the Lancers on their final possession to take the hard-fought win.
East is now 5-2 and meets up with Belleville West at home in the Battle of Belleville game next Friday, while the Tigers are 7-0 and face East Side at Tiger Stadium next Friday, with both games starting at 7 p.m.
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