Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tigers defense devours Warriors

Edwardsville forces five turnovers in homecoming win
Special to the News-Democrat

Contrary to what you might have heard, the Edwardsville Tigers did not have their homecoming dance in the Granite City backfield. It just seemed like it.

The Tigers had three sacks, forced five turnovers and consistently put a body on Granite City's biggest weapon, Lavonce James, in a 34-6 homecoming victory Friday night.

Senior linebacker Bryan Reller was a one-man wrecking crew, with an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack; and fellow linebacker Ryan Knight had a sack and a fumble recovery for the Tigers, who limited Granite City to 167 total yards.

Edwardsville improved to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in Southwestern Conference play on the strength of a defense that limited James to 12 yards rushing on 11 attempts. James, who had a team-high 455 yards rushing before Friday, was caught in the backfield or for no gain on six of his 11 carries.

"The defensive line did a really good job on him," Reller said. "We considered him their best player, so we focused on bottling him up. We also had linebackers spying on him on every play, and we did a good job with that."

Four of Edwardsville's five touchdowns were the result of turnovers, three of those on drives following a Granite City (1-5, 1-3) turnover -- the final one a fumble recovery in the end zone by Sean Keasey.

"We put the ball on the ground and dropped it all night long," Granite City coach J.D. Lorton said. "It was a recurring theme, and you can't win ball games doing that. ... We were caught on our heels most of the evening. They definitely were the aggressor and we weren't."

The Tigers built a 21-6 halftime lead on three short drives, each set up by a turnover.

Midway through the first quarter, Reller positioned the Tigers for a one-play drive by intercepting a James pass at the Granite City 44 and returning it 38 yards to the 6. From there, Reggie Box scampered into the end zone, and Sam Fink's kick made it 7-0.

Edwardsville's next drive wasn't much more difficult, as Box recovered a Cody Spanberger fumble at the Granite City 28 to put the Tigers in motion. Box did it all from there, going 20 yards on a draw play, then overcoming an illegal procedure call with a 13-yard draw when he ran through the middle, bounced left and raced to the pylon.

Fink's strong leg on kickoffs and a stout Edwardsville defense kept the Warriors pinned deep for most of the first half. In fact, Granite City's first snap on Edwardsville's side of the field was with 4:30 remaining in the second quarter. As if they knew they wouldn't get many chances, the Warriors made the most of the opportunity, Spanberger going 39 yards around the left corner and into the end zone.

Knight blocked the extra point, and it appeared Granite City would go into the half trailing by only eight points. But with 1:29 remaining, a bad snap in a shotgun formation hit James around the ankle, and an alert Knight pounced on it at the Granite City 37.

Edwardsville, a single-wing team that relies on a lot of deception in the backfield, had completed one pass for zero yards to that point, but junior quarterback Chase Westra proved he can throw the ball if he needs to. On three successive plays, he connected with Mason McBride, Josh White and Kaleb Schlueter for 7, 10 and 12 yards. Two plays later, on third-and-goal at the 5 and with 12 seconds left, Westra rolled right to look for a receiver, turned upfield and powered just over the goal line for the 21-6 halftime lead.

"We're working on the passing game," Westra said. "I'm not happy with how I'm throwing yet, but we're getting there. On the touchdown, I was rolling out and looking to hit an out route in end zone, but I saw an opening and then just took it."

Edwardsville didn't have an especially prolific offensive game, rushing for 227 yards on 47 carries and managing 32 yards through the air. But 240-pound junior running back Rodney Coe didn't play on offense because a hand injury has his left hand in a large cast. Box had a team-high 99 yards on 14 carries, Eric Vinyard added 56 yards on 10 totes, and Westra tallied 56 yards on 16 attempts.

Spanberger, a 185-pound junior, accounted for 75 percent of Granite City's offense, rushing for 125 yards on 17 carries.

The Tigers closed the door on any Granite City second-half hopes with an epic drive to open the third quarter. Keeping the ball exclusively on the ground, Edwardsville marched 71 yards on 12 plays, eating 4:50 off the clock and taking a 27-6 lead when Westra plunged in from 1-yard out.

Most of the damage in the drive was done behind the right side of the line, with center Brandon Bradford, right guard Andrew Ellington, right tackle Ethan Buford and tight end Garrett Jensen blowing the Warriors off the ball.

"We just methodically moved the ball down the field after making a couple of adjustments at halftime," Edwardsville coach Mark Bliss said. "We can throw if we have to, but it's just one of those things where we like to control the clock if we can and keep the ball in our hands."
Belleville News-Democrat
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Belleville, IL

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