St. Charles East topples Rock Island

By Marc Nesseler
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 8/24/2018 9:58 PM

ROCK ISLAND -- For a second straight football season opener, the St. Charles East Saints set the tone early against the Rock Island Rocks.

On Friday night at Almquist Field, the Saints did so on the first offensive play. Taking a handoff, junior running back Colton Conn went up the middle, and was 80 yards downfield before a Rocky defender had put a hand on him. A play later, Ronan Macaluso scored from 5 yards out for the start of a 41-14 victory.

"I looked up and my 'olie' (offensive linemen) had spread everything out," said Conn. "You could have driven two trucks through there, the hole was that massive."

Conn had 99 yards rushing by the end of the first quarter, on just 3 carries. He finished with 134, with the Saints, as a team, finishing with over 300 yards rushing.

Saints quarterback B.J. Crossen was tough, as well, for the Rocks to stop. He rushed for 2 third-quarter touchdowns, and passed for another, threading an aerial between a pair of Rocky defenders to Conn's twin brother Clayton for a 37-yard touchdown just before halftime.

That TD pass made it 27-7. But for that and the first long run, St. Charles East would have had just a 13-7 halftime edge.

"We need to play assignment football," Rock Island coach Ben Hammer said, pointing to that first long Colton Conn run. "They ran a mid-line play and we had talked about our tackles closing on that. They did a good job on that the rest of the night."

As for the TD pass, Hammer noted that the Rocks had the Saints facing a fourth-and-2 at midfield and then successfully pulled off a fake punt by SCE's Cody Mitchell. Right after that came the Crossen-to-Clayton Conn score.

The Rocks added a late score with a touchdown pass of their own, and similar in that quarterback Ian Purvis had little margin of error in finding receiver Aaron Voss for the 8-yard strike.

In 2017, Rock Island not only couldn't generate anything offensively, nor could it stop the Saints' offense, but the Rocks also lost their top two running backs and top two linebackers to injuries in the game's first eight plays.

This time, second-year coach Hammer quickly found some positives on which they can build.

"Our biggest positive is that when we played them last year, we couldn't effectively move the ball at all or stop them defensively," Hammer said.

In the rematch, the Rocks compiled 264 yards on the ground and over 300 in total offense, with junior running back Davion Wilson missing the 200-yard rushing mark by just 6 yards. In fact, he would have eclipsed it had a 62-yard run in the fourth quarter not been called back by a holding penalty.

"St. Charles East is a Class 8A team that is superfast and super-talented," Hammer continued. "What we have now is film that we can allow us to go back to the drawing board."

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