In a setting only a Londonite would love; cold with a steady drizzle of rain, East Prairie gained a total of 334 yards on the ground and with some solid defense to propel the Eagles to an important opening win in Class 2, District 1 action.
Running backs Dez Johnson and Paris Tipler of East Prairie had some trouble getting going in the first half as they were held to 82 rushing yards combined in the first half.
However, the duo got it going in the second half as Johnson rushed for 131 yards for a total of 185 with a touchdown and Tipler ran for 107 yards in the second half for a total of 135 with three touchdowns.
East Prairie saved its best defensive performance of the year for districts as they hounded the running backs of Malden all night. The Eagles were led by defensive lineman R.C. Strand who had a sensational performance with 15 tackles.
"Our defense played as a team tonight," said East Prairie head coach Corey Adkisson. "At times this year our defense seemed to take some plays off but tonight everyone knew their responsibility and played extremely well."
Malden looked primed for a victory early in the contest as East Prairie fumbled the football on its first play of the game giving the Green Wave excellent position.
Malden took advantage as Trey Porter scored on a 3-yard run. The conversion failed and Malden led 6-0 at 10:05 of the first quarter.
The Eagles struggled early as they were held scoreless in the first quarter.
"Our offensive line is inconsistent at times," said Adkisson. "Our running backs need our O-line to have a good game. They (O-line) make our offense click."
The offensive line of the Eagles did pick it up in the second quarter as Tipler scored from 7 yards out. Johnson ran in for the two-point conversion and East Prairie took the lead 8-6 at 3:06 in the second quarter.
Malden took over possession late in the second quarter and mounted a two-
minute drive. With a combination of runs and timely passing, the Green Wave had the football on the Eagles' 2-yard line with 2.7 seconds left in the half. A sweep was called and Criglar ran to the right off tackle.
The Eagles' defense swarmed to the running back and Criglar cut up and dove in for what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown as time expired in the half. However, game officials ruled Criglar down at the 1-yard line and Malden trailed 8-6 at halftime.
"That was a big play in the game," said Malden head coach Gary Blaylock. "He was in, my boys said he scored and I believe them."
Both teams played a scoreless third quarter that featured some great defense on both sides and some fumbles that were expected in the cold, damp night.
East Prairie started to wear down the Green Wave as Johnson and Tipler took over in the fourth quarter. At 11:11 of the fourth quarter, Johnson scored on a 3-yard run making the score 14-6.
Tipler scored his second touchdown of the game as he broke loose for a 37-
yard touchdown run. East Prairie led 20-6 at 8:04 of the fourth quarter.
To ice the game, Tipler scored his third rushing touchdown of the game as he broke several tackles on his way for a 31-yard touchdown. The Eagles were up 26-6 and that was the final outcome.
Malden shot itself in the foot as they consistently drove inside Eagle territory only to self-destruct.
"We made too many mistakes," said Blaylock. "We were good until we got to the 20-yard line and we just didn't stick the ball in the end zone. Played well in the first half but we didn't put East Prairie away and we gave it to them with too many fumbles. We have got to learn from our mistakes and learn how to score when in the red zone."
While this game left Blaylock wondering what if, Adkisson was praising his seniors for leading the way for victory.
"Our seniors stepped up big time tonight," said Adkisson. "They picked up their play and led us when we needed them. Can't say enough about how well Dez played tonight. He really wanted this win and it showed."
Quarterback Mitchell Winchester of East Prairie had a nice night as he threw for 32 yards on four completions and ran for 22 yards on six carries. Tight end Tony Jones had two receptions for 16 yards and William O'Guin had a reception for three yards. Besides having a nice night in the backfield for the Eagles, Tipler caught one pass for 13 yards.
Back to full strength for the first time since Week 1, Malden's Porter ran for 88 yards on 22 carries and had the Green Wave's only score. Criglar had a good night running as he carried 14 times for 77 yards.
Senior quarterback Jonathan Henfling for Malden had a tough night as he threw two interceptions. Henfling did complete five passes for 64 yards. Criglar caught three passes for 31 yards and Kaleum Reid had one reception for 24 yards.
Besides Strand on defense, East Prairie got a stellar defensive effort from their linebackers. Riley Hadenfelt, Jones and O'Guin ran from sideline to sideline tracking down Green Wave running backs. Jones was second on the team in tackles with 11 and O'Guin was next with nine tackles. Hadenfelt held the fourth position in tackles as he recorded eight for the Eagles.
Zach Secoy and Tipler had interceptions for East Prairie while Charles O'Dell and David Stalker recorded sacks for the Eagles.
Malden was led in tackles by Alonzo Louis who recorded seven. Lineman Ryan McGee had six tackles and a sack. Henfling had six tackles from his defensive back position.
District action resumes on Friday as East Prairie (4-3, 1-0 district) will travel south to take on Portageville (3-5, 0-1 district).
Malden (2-5-1, 0-1 district) also is on the road next week as they will face Caruthersville (3-5, 1-0 district).