EAST ST. LOUIS -- Rayondus Estes scrambled away from pressure and compiled an off-balanced 23-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Thomas to send the East St. Louis Flyers to the Class 7A football quarterfinals.
Thomas pulled down the winning score with three seconds left on the clock to give the Flyers the 32-28 win over Glenbard North at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis on Saturday.
The touchdown marked the third and last time the lead would change hands in the thrilling fourth quarter.
"Rey Estes has got a very big heart and is a kid that is never going to give up," said East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett. "This is his team and he led us to this great moment."
The top-seeded Flyers (11-0) will hit the road to Villa Park for their quarterfinal game against No. 23 Willowbrook (8-3), a 49-21 winner over Glenbrook North on Saturday.
Glenbard North fell to 8-3, their season ending on a 25th anniversary rematch of the 1991 state championship game.
"There were some big plays today and they just made one more than we did," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens. "They're really good up front and they just killed our running game. We were able to throw the ball well on occasions, but we are based more on running the football and we couldn't get that going."
The Flyers outgained the Glenbard North by more than 200 yards of total offense, but a pair of turnovers deep in their own territory -- both fumbles by Thomas -- set the Panthers up for touchdowns.
Sunkett was in ear of the All-America wide receiver, telling Thomas he owed his teammates something big. Thomas finished the game with 7 catches for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"I just kept telling him 'Come on, Jeff, you owe us one,' and he said, 'I'm going to get you one.' That's Jeff Thomas, one of the best athletes in the county. That's what's expected of him. I love that kid and he brought it home for us."
Estes, a University of Missouri commit, completed 9 of 15 passes for 209 yards and rushed for 103 more. Jarrell Anderson rushed 21 times for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns.
East St. Louis held a 6-point lead at the half, but Thomas' second fumble of the game set Glenbard North up for the go-ahead score, a 45-yard pass from Shane Conway to Greg Newsome.
The Flyers got the lead back, however, with a 5-play, 43-yard drive capped by Estes' 20-yard run to the corner of the end zone to make it 26-21.
But on Glenbard North's next possession, East St. Louis left Newsome uncovered and all alone on the right sideline. Conway sped the count and hit Newsome on a quick slant that sprung him on a 77-yard touchdown sprint that put the Panthers back on top.
"I don't know exactly what happened, but all of our corners got confused, went to the trip side of the field and left him over there all by himself," Sunkett said. "We didn't have any timeouts left so we were stuck. It was just a blown coverage on our part."
East St. Louis got the ball back with 2:42 left to piece together the game-winning drive.
Estes completed a fourth-and-21 pass to Charlando Robinson to keep the Flyers alive. Then, a pass interference call against Glenbard North set East St. Louis up with a first down on the 23-yard line with 9.6 seconds left.
On the Flyers final play from scrimmage, Estes was pressured out of the pocket deep behind the line of scrimmage. Falling back off his back foot, he threw a dart toward the end zone, which Thomas caught, fighting only teammate Jarrell Anderson for possession.
"My coach told me if I catch a blitz to be sure I roll to the side that I'm throwing to, because all season I've been rolling naked away from my pass rush," Estes said. "I saw Jeff and I meant the throw to be a bullet, but it slipped because of the balls we were playing with. Jeff did what great players do and made a great play."
Players from both sides collapsed to the turf, either with relief or disappointment, until the referees put three seconds back on the clock.
Anderson scored the 2-point conversion to put East St. Louis on top, 34-28. Glenbard North attempted without success a pass-and-lateral on its final play from scrimmage.
Glenbard North was held to just 13 yards rushing, despite a 50-yard touchdown run by Vittorio Tricase. Fifteen of the Panthers' 26 rushing attempts resulted in negative yardage.
Conway finished 12 of 20 for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns. Newsome scored on each of his 3 catches for 157 yards.