With the Chicago Public Schools teachers strike going on last week, East St. Louis football coach Darren Sunkett didn’t know if his team would play its opening round game of the IHSA Class 6 playoffs against Chicago Morgan Park.
But when an agreement was hammered out late Wednesday afternoon to end the strike, the game was on and the Flyers prepared for takeoff and hammered the Mustangs 44-0. East St. Louis will now make the nearly four hour trip to Rock Island on Saturday afternoon to take on the Rocks in the second round of the state tournament. It’s a 1 p.m. kickoff at Almquist Stadium. The Rock Island Rocks defeated Dunlap High School 28-18 last week.
The Rocks are led on offense by quarterback Devin Swift, wide receiver Perry Slater and running-back Davion Wilson, who rushed for 143 yards on 23 carries in the victory against Dunlap. Defensively, Rock Island is led by linebacker Jaydon Upton and defensive tackle Donavan Rodgers who returned a tipped pass for a touchdown last week against Dunlap.
But let’s be clear, Dunlap isn’t the overall No. 1 seed in the state in East St. Louis. The Southwestern Conference champs are playing with a chip on its shoulders and plan on having Thanksgiving desert on November 30 at Northern Illinois University's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, the site of this year’s Class 6A state title game. The Flyers won’t be bothered by playing in the hostile environment at Almquist Stadium, which is only a mile and a half from Davenport, Iowa.
Playing its usual Southwestern Conference schedule, the 2019 Flyers are road tested while also playing at Illinois Class 7A and 8A powers Batavia and Naperville Central. In addition, the Flyers traveled to Naperville Neuqua Valley whose only loss was to East St. Louis so far this season.
The Flyers have one of the most prolific offenses in the state. East St. Louis can pass it or run the football at will. The Flyers are paced on offense by the smooth junior quarterback Tyler Macon, who’s passed for 3,097 yards and 29 touchdowns. Macon is garnering collegiate attention from several Division I schools. Senior DaMonta Witherspoon leads the Flyers rushing attack with 1,201 yards and 23 touchdowns.
In addition, the East St. Louis receiving corps as a group just might be the best ever. Leading the way is the No. 1 high school recruit in the state of Illinois in Antonio “AJ” Johnson. The two-way star and Texas A&M recruit had three receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns against Morgan Park. This season, Johnson has totaled 615 yards with 25 catches. In addition to Johnson, Rock Island will also have to worry about senior Lawaun Powell Jr. (34 receptions 576 yards and three touchdowns), juniors Keontez Lewis, 29 receptions 596 yards and seven touchdowns) and Dominic Lovett, who has 25 receptions for 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Up front for East St. Louis, the Flyers are paced by University of Tennessee recruit offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins. Defensively, the Flyers are again paced by All American Antonio “AJ” Johnson (68 tackles two interceptions) in the secondary. Joining Johnson are cornerback Dylan Appleton (65 tackles), Jamarriante Burgess (67 tackles, three interceptions), and cornerbacks Jalen Reed and Lamar Box Jr.
In addition to the outstanding secondary, East St. Louis features Missouri recruit Kevon Billingsley (98 tackles), Illinois State University recruit Darius Walker (105 tackles) and Kendrick Scarborough, who has 11 sacks this season.
Flyers Head Coach Darren Sunkett doesn’t allow his team to take any opponents lightly.
“We understand here at East St. Louis Senior High that this time of year its one opponent, one game at a time," he said. “We don’t allow our kids to take any opponent for granted. But at the end of the day, our kids are motivated and will be well prepared.”
A win by East St. Louis will advance the Flyers into the quarter- finals against the winner of Peoria High School and Oak Lawn Richards next Saturday.