DeKALB – Prairie Ridge was trying to put together a late drive to keep the Class 6A title game against East St. Louis close.
The Wolves fumbled three times on the drive, recovering the first two. The third time they weren't so lucky.
Darran Perkins returned a fumble by Kyle Koelblinger 95 yards for a touchdown, pushing the Flyers' lead to three touchdowns for the first time in a 43-21 victory.
"There was no hesitation," Perkins said of his scoop and score. "I was tired. I'm still tired. But it's unbelievable. It's an unreal feeling."
The Wolves (12-2) were in the middle of a 11-play, 49-yard drive before the fumble, trailing 28-14 in the final 7 minutes of the game.
But the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Perkins changed the tide, rumbled down field, and zigged when necessary to avoid the Wolves chasing him down and getting a couple blocks as well.
The Flyers (14-0) added a touchdown to pad the lead on a 1-yard run by Da'Monte Witherspoon.
East St. Louis' first drive in the second half didn't start 4:56 was left in the third and the game tied at 14, but they needed just four plays to go 96 yards to retake the lead after stopping Prairie Ridge on the goalline.
"That was big," East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said. "We talked about it at halftime how we needed a stop. We knew they had the ball and we wanted to make sure we got ahead. So we got the stop coming out of the half and our offense went and marched downfield."
The Wolves had momentum on their side to start the third quarter, using 13 plays to go 62 yards in 7:04 down to the East St. Louis 4-yard line. But Zach Bentsen was stuffed on third and Connor Lydon was flushed and forced to throw it away on fourth.
"They score so much, we've got to score touchdowns," Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said of the decision to go for it. "We came here to win, not keep it close."
After the stop, Tyler Macon hit Dominic Lovett for 21 on a third-and-1, then he found Lovett on a rocket downfield for a 66-yard pass an a 20-14 lead after a missed extra point.
The Flyers took their first two-score lead in the fourth when Macon found a wide open Lovett on a screen and a 28-14 lead.
East St. Louis was poised to take the lead at the end of the first half. Macon hit Lawaun Powell for a 38 yard gain, but Ty Baker forced a fumble, recovered by Mason Loucks. The Wolves ran out the clock on the half.
Each team scored on its first possession – the Flyers on a 4-yard pass from Macon to Keontez Lewis, the Wolves on a 19-yard pass from Lydon to Taidhgin Trost.
Macon put the Flyers back ahead in the second quarter on a 42-yard run. Lydon answered with a 39 yard run of his own.
And although the Wolves did get 379 total yards, it was their second lowest point total of the year.
"The defense played with a chip on its shoulder all week," Sunkett said. "You kept hearing the buzzwords that we weren't disciplined enough to handle an option, that we would have mental mistakes. So our guys went hard all week and we made adjustments when we needed to."
The last two titles came at 7A for the Flyers, but they were not able to petition up to a higher class this year.
"When you look at it, 1A to 8A, that trophy is the same size," Sunkett said. "It doesn't make a difference, a trophy is a trophy. We'll take the 6A trophy the same as 7A, 8A, 1A, 2A. They're all the same."
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