By Steve ruman
The East High football team traveled here on Friday winless, banged up (several key starters were sidelined) and still mourning the loss of Miguel Caban (the father of senior lineman Devante Caban, who unexpectedly passed away earlier this month).
With the odds seemingly stacked against them, the Golden Bears put together what Coach Brian Marrow called “an inspired and totally determined effort.”
The result was an East 19-14 win over the Red Dragons at Bo Rein Stadium.
The East offense totally dominated the first half, gaining 259 yards to Niles’ 38.
The Golden Bears (1-3, 1-0 All-American Conference Red) led 19-7 at halftime.
And when East’s offense sputtered in the second half, its defense took over, stopping a vaunted Niles (0-4, 0-1) offense on several key drives.
“This team just willed itself to victory tonight,” Marrow said. “Our defense did an unbelievable job against a really good Niles offense. This team just wanted it so bad, and they deserved this.”
Marrow teared up when talking about Miguel Caban.
“This was a guy who was at every practice, at every game,” Marrow said. “We got our helmet stickers today, our ‘MC’ stickers, and this game was for him and his family.”
East had all the momentum right out of the gate. The Golden Bears took the opening possession and drove 50 yards in six plays to take a quick 6-0 lead.
Jawan Showers (19 carries, 157 yards) had runs of 46 and 13 yards on the drive, which was capped by Showers’ 5-yard run for a touchdown.
After stopping Niles on its initial possession, East again marched down the field, this time a 10-play, 94 yard drive which ended with an Ilijah Donley 3-yard run.
Already leading 13-0, it looked like East might put the game away in the latter stages of the second quarter. The Bears marched down to the Niles 20. However, Red Dragons defender Jason Johns picked off a pass and returned it 80 yards to cut Niles’ lead to 13-7.
“That was a huge play, because until then we had everything going our way, and now all of a sudden it’s anybody’s game,” Marrow said.
East responded with a score with just 21 seconds left in the half on a Donley 2-yard touchdown which was set up by a Showers 46-yard run.
The story of the second half was East’s defense. Niles took the second-half kickoff and advanced to the East 21, but turned the ball over on downs.
The Red Dragons took the opening possession of the fourth quarter and had a first-and-goal at the East 1, but was turned away on four plays.
“That stance was incredible, you just don’t see that many stops like that especially in high school,’ Marrow said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the second half, but our defense just wasn’t going to allow us to lose.”
Donley finished with 60 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. East quarterback Isiah McBride completed eight of 16 passes for 83 yards.
Johns scored both of Niles’ touchdowns. In addition to his interception return, he pulled in an eight-yard TD from Jordan Soda (11-of-18, 72 yards).
Niles junior Robbie Savin led Niles with 112 rushing yards, but the Dragons offense was hindered by six quarterback sacks.
“We have to get rid of the ball sooner and let our wide receivers make plays,” Niles coach Brian Shaner said. “But give credit to East. Their front four on defense were dominant. They are men.
“East came in with a great game plan. They kept our offense off the field. Both teams played hard, it was a great football game but ... they deserved to win.”