EDWARDSVILLE – The Edwardsville ground game hit on all cylinders as Justin Johnson, Jr. ran for 187 yards, sophomore Jordan Bush ran for 129 in the second half and senior quarterback Ryan Hampton ran for 97 yards as the Tigers won their home opener, defeating Belleville East 49-21 in a Southwestern Conference game Friday night at Tiger Stadium.

Edwardsville built up a 35-3 lead in the third quarter and took advantage of five Lancer turnovers in going on to their second win in as many games in the abbreviated spring football season. The big rushing numbers were indicative of a job well done by both the offensive line and the downfield players making their blocks.

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“When we’re getting that kind of rushing yards, the line’s doing a pretty good job upfront,” said Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin, “our receivers are blocking well downfield. I thought Ryan and Justin did a good job of making people miss. Our overall execution and effort was better, we only had one turnover; I’d like to see no turnovers,” Martin said with a laugh, “but we didn’t have any bad snaps, a lot of positives.”

The Tiger defense also had a great game, coming up with the turnovers at critical times, then took advantage of them to put points on the board.

“Yeah, and we short-fielded them a couple of times,” Martin said, “and I thought our kids handled it well and got turnovers back. So they didn’t pout, they kept fighting and good things happened for us.”

Late in the third and into the fourth quarters, sophomore backup quarterback James Distaso-Hutchins and Bush both gave very good accountings of themselves, making plays and contributing to the Tigers’ ground attack,

“James and Bush, yeah,” Martin said. “Bush made some people miss out there, and James made some good decisions in the run game, the right reads, and he threw some good hitch routes out there, too.”

Most importantly, the entire roster saw valuable playing time, and Martin thought that it was a great thing to get everyone into the game.

“Yeah, it’s fun for all those kids to get to play,” Martin said. “They’ve been putting in a lot of time, so when we can one of these games where everyone gets to play, it’s good for the program.”

Edwardsville took only five plays to score on the game’s opening possession, driving 50 yards in four plays, with Hampton going 32 yards on a keeper, then Johnson going in from eight yards out on the next play to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead after Gavin Walls’ conversion only 1:45 in.

The Lancers first possession started strong on a 12-yard completion from Lucas Maue to Jaylen Ford, but the Tigers defense stiffened and forced a punt East then had a golden opportunity to tie the game after the Edwardsville punter inadvertently took a knee at his own eight after scooping up the snap, but three plays could only gain four yards, and the Lancers settled for a Kannon Walker 21-yard field goal to cut the Tiger lead to 7-3 with 1:29 left in the first quarter.

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On the ensuing possession, Edwardsville drove 64 yards in seven plays with the Hampton-Johnson duo doing the work. The key play in the drive was Hampton completing a pass to Johnson under heavy pressure for 28 yards to the Lancer 33. Three plays later, Johnson took a direct snap up the middle for seven yards and the touchdown, and on the conversion, holder Grant Matarelli recovered a low snap and around right end into the end zone for a two-point conversion to make the score 15-3 Tigers with 10:58 left in the half.

East then started a drive that looked very promising, as Maue completed a pass to Ethyn Brown for 26 yards, then another pass to Ford gained another 26 yards, with the ball eventually being spotted on the Edwardsville five. Maue then ran up the middle, but fumbled into the end zone as he was hit, and the ball was recovered by the Tigers for a touchback, bringing it out to the 20-yard line.

Edwardsville then went on an 80-yard, nine play drive that took 4:30 off the clock. A pass from Hampton to Matarellli that was caught on the sideline nicely gained 16, and on third and 10 from the Lancer 31, Johnson took a handoff, started up the middle and ran left all the way in for a touchdown, his second of the night. Walls’ conversion made the score 22-3 for the Tigers at halftime.

Edwardsville scored on its first possession of the second half after a Matarelli interception put the Tigers in business at the East 19. Johnson took a direct snap and ran 14 yards for his third touchdown of the game with 9:14 left to make it 28-3 Tigers, with the conversion missed after a fumbled snap from center.

Another interception gave the ball back to Edwardsville on the next East possession, but the Lancers got the ball right back on an interception by Theo Millas. Johnnie Robinson’s interception on the next play gave the ball back to Edwardsville, who had a five play, 48-yard drive with Johnson doing most of the work. Johnson scored the touchdown himself, going in from 10 yards out with 5:21 to go in the third, with Walls convert making it 35-3.

After the Tigers recovered a fumble on the next play, Hampton climaxed the ensuing drive by making a brilliant fake and running 36 yards for another touchdown to make it 42-3 with Walls’ convert with 4:02 left in the third. Corey Martin then came in at quarterback for the Lancers, and he led them on a seven play, 70 yard drive on the next possession, completing four passes during the march, climaxing with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Bryson Ivy to make it 42-9 after the conversion was missed.

The Tigers’ reserves began to come in on the next possession, and both Distaso-Hutchins and Bush began to make the presence felt. Bush had some good runs of seven, eight and nine yards at a time, while Disaso-Hutchins had a pair of good runs. The drive stalled, and Walls missed a 27-yard field goal attempt to give East the ball back. It only took two plays for the Lancers to score, as Jeremy Schooler ran 69 yards for a touchdown to make it 42-15, but again, the conversion kick missed.

Edwardsville got the touchdown back on the next possession as Bush did most of the work on an eight play, 66-yard drive. Bush scored the touchdown from three yards out with 3:54 left in the game, and Walls’ convert made the score 49-15.

Bruce Harris returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Edwardsville 33, and from there, Landen Thomas ran 20 yards up the middle for the final touchdown, with the conversion again missing, making the final score 49-21 in favor of the Tigers.

Edwardsville is now 2-0 on the year and hosts East St. Louis next Friday in both the Tigers’ homecoming game and Senior Night game. Marin was very happy to get everyone into the game, and will start getting ready for the challenge from the powerful Flyers next week.

“Sure, absolutely,” Martin said. “A lot of good, we’ll watch film, we’ll critique it a little more after that, and we’ll continue to get better. We’ve got East Side next week; we’ll have to play better if we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Dan Brannan also contributed to this story.

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