EDWARDSVILLE – East St. Louis junior running back DeMonta Witherspoon scored two touchdowns, while sophomore quarterback Tyler Macon passed for two others as the Flyers recorded a 34-21 win over the Tigers in both teams’ Southwestern Conference opener on a rainy Friday night at Tiger Stadium.

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The Tigers kept battling all night even when they fell behind. Edwardsville head football coach Matt Martin thought some exchange issues with the wet conditions were a problem for his team.

“They didn’t seem to have many ball issues in this weather,” said Tiger coach Matt Martin, referring to the rainy weather as the remnants of tropical storm Gordon arrived in the St. Louis area. “But we had quarterback-center exchange problems all night.”

One turning point occurred late in the first half, when on first and goal at the East Side two, a bad snap from center that sailed over Kendall Abdur-Rahman’s head put the Tigers back 19 yards. Edwardsville couldn’t recover from the miscue, and the Flyers promptly scored on the next possession.

“I told them, I said ‘Guys, I don’t know if you could play a worse first quarter, and yet, you still found yourself in this game,’ “Martin said. “So I’d like to play this one again.”

Martin felt the biggest difference in the game was how well the Flyers offensive line blocked for their runners, and how the Tigers couldn’t capitalize on Flyer mistakes.

“But the big telling point, and it’s our issue, is they won the battle up front,” Martin said. “And so, when they made mistakes, we couldn’t capitalize on them. They protected well, they run block well, and we had a hard time, offensive line-wise, consistently getting a hat on a hat, and being able to get the ball out on the perimeter.”

East Side scored on their first two possessions of the game, the first on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that featured both Macon and Witherspoon getting good gains on the ground. Witherspoon climaxed the drive with a 15-yard run off the right side for the touchdown 2:18 into the game. Lawaun Powell, Jr.’s kick made it 7-0 Flyers.

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On the next possession, Macon threw to Antonio Johnson off a play-fake 22 yards for the Flyers’ second touchdown to give them a 14-0 edge. The Tigers were able to halve the lead late in the quarter, as Abdur-Rahman went up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown run with 10.5 seconds left in the term. Brandon Latham’s point-after made it 14-7.

A fired-up Tiger defense held the Flyers on their next possession, but on the next Edwardsville possession, East Side recovered a fumble, and immediately took advantage as a Macon pass was nearly intercepted, but went right into the hands of Kenneth Cotton, who went 31 yards for the touchdown with 8:02 left in the first half. The kick was missed, keeping the score 20-7.

A blocked punt on the next possession gave the Tigers a great chance, starting at the Flyers’ 16. An 11-yard run by Abdur-Rahman and a penalty made it first and goal at the East Side two when the turning point occurred. A bad snap from center got away from Abdur-Rahman, who recovered the ball on the Flyer 21, and from there, East Side held. The Flyers scored on the ensuing possession, as Macon called his own number on an option and ran 52 yards for the touchdown. A two-point pass failed, keeping the score 26-7 at halftime.

The Flyers further extended their lead in the third, going 68 yards in 12 plays midway through the quarter, the score coming on a Witherspoon three-yard run up the middle, with Macon adding on the two-point convert on a run up the middle to make it 34-7 with 4:18 left in the term.

It took the Tigers only one play to get the touchdown back, as Abdur-Rahman took the snap, went right and ran 80 yards into the end zone to cut the lead back to 34-14 after the convert. Early in the final quarter, the Tigers recovered a fumble to stop a Flyers’ drive, but East Side got the ball right back on an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but was called back because of a blocking in the back penalty.

The Tigers held on that possession, then Justin Johnson, Jr. went right to work, as he carried most of the load on the next possession. Johnson had two very good runs in which he ran right over Flyers defenders for a total of 25 yards, then Abdur-Rahman completed a pass to Chase Moore good for 49 yards to put the ball at the Flyer three, where Johnson took it in with 6:22 left in regulation to cut the lead to 34-21 after the convert.

Edwardsville got the ball back after a poor punt put the ball at the East Side 39 with 3:26 left. Abdur-Rahman had two good runs, and Flyer penalties at inopportune times ended up putting the ball at the Flyer six. A bad snap on a fourth down play ended the drive, and the Flyers were able to run out the clock and preserve their 34-21 win.

The Tigers host Chicagoland’s Waubonsie Valley of Aurora next Friday in a 7 p.m. kickoff, and Martin knows what the Tigers need to do.

“We were playing hard, but we’ve got to play smart,” Martin said.

Steven Spencer also contributed to this story.

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