Illinois High School Football News

East St. Louis solves Prairie Ridge’s triple-option to win 10th state championship

Prairie Ridge's Tyler Vasey tries to pull away from East St. Louis' Antwon Hayden during their IHSA Class 6A state championship game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

CHAMPAIGN – East St. Louis was tired of hearing how it couldn’t stop the triple-option.

Saturday’s 57-7 drubbing against Prairie Ridge – one of the state’s premiere triple-option teams – to win the Class 6A state championship should silence any doubters.

“The defense still felt bad from last year,” said East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett, whose team fell to Cary-Grove 37-36 in last year’s 6A final. “With each headline they read, ‘Can we stop the triple-option?’ That’s all we heard from the time we lost the state championship up until this week.

“We really felt like we had something to prove this year, that we’re actually good.”

The Flyers proved Saturday that they can stop just about anybody.

That includes the state’s all-time, single-season rushing leader in Tyler Vasey, who recorded his lowest output of the year with 107 yards on 25 carries. The Wolves star quarterback entered the championship game with more than 3,700 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns.

East St. Louis held Vasey to an average of 4.3 yards a carry and one score. He averaged 11.9 yards before Saturday, with playoff games of six, seven and eight touchdowns.

The Wolves QB scored a 14-yard TD on Prairie Ridge’s first possession, but there wasn’t much room to run after that. East St. Louis went on to score 57 unanswered points.

The Flyers knew they had the speed and skill to slow Vasey down.

Linebacker Dominic Dixon posted a team-high 10 tackles, while Antwon Hayden and Bryce Harrison each had nine. Those three also combined for 4 1/2 tackles for losses.

“Anybody who rushes for 3,700 yards, you put your eyes on them,” Sunkett said. “We had all 11 guys key on No. 7 [Vasey]. No. 7 is a tremendous athlete. We’ve got great deal of respect for him. We noticed this year, they didn’t pitch the ball very often, so we played to that tendency, and it worked in our favor.”

East St. Louis captains accept the trophy after their IHSA Class 6A state championship win over Prairie Ridge Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

The Flyers also did something against the Wolves that not many teams have been able to do: force them to throw the ball.

Although the Wolves like to throw it here and there, they usually only do so when it’s in their favor.

“That was something we wanted to do,” Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. “We wanted to mix in the pass a little more. With their athleticism, we had to mix it up. Now, our idea of mixing it up is being able to throw it when we want to. When you get us in first-and-25, it’s not ideal. We got off-schedule early because of penalties and it snowballed on us.”

Sunkett said the Flyers did some extra preparation in the offseason, knowing they may see the triple-option again.

East St. Louis was facing a triple-option team in the state championship for the third straight season in which a postseason was contested. The Flyers beat Prairie Ridge three seasons ago.

“These guys stepped up, and our defense did a great job,” Sunkett said. “We’ve got some great defensive coaches who put time in over the offseason to get our kids prepared to stop the triple-option if it came our way. Those guys really stepped up to the plate.”

Miles McVay, the Flyers’ 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior lineman who will play at Alabama, said the Flyers had unfinished business.

Not anymore.

“It felt amazing,” McVay said. “It was really going out and doing it for my brother Jaylen and doing it for the city. We let them down last year. It just wasn’t going to happen again. I told you I promised you that, and I live up to my promises.”

Sunkett said there also were plenty of doubters early in the season when the Flyers started 1-2, with both losses out of state.

Now, the Flyers can once again call themselves state champions – for the 10th time in program history.

“We came out and played a very rugged schedule,” Sunkett said. “We lost two games and everybody had us buried. We went the rest of the season and we had a very dominant football program. We’re a football town. That’s what we live for. These guys know that. It’s a lot of pressure.”