Preseason hype doesn't slow Pekin in season-opening romp over Rock Island
PEKIN — The preseason hype for the Pekin football team was deafening.
Coaches and media members proclaimed the Dragons the favorites to win the Mid-Illini Conference and a threat to go far in the Class 7A playoffs after making it to the second round last year. Pekin nearly snuck into the first Associated Press Class 7A poll of the season, falling one point shy of the No. 10 spot.
None of that meant a thing on the field Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
But the Dragons showed why they were worthy of the preseason accolades, defeating tradition-rich Rock Island 56-20 in a nonconference game played in front of packed home bleachers and with a running clock in the final 6:35.
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"You can't listen to what people are saying about you," said Dragons quarterback Scotty Jordan. "You have to go out and do what you know you can do."
What Pekin can do is put a lot of points on the board thanks to an offense that features two returning 1,000-yard running backs in Kanye Tyler and Tanner Sprecher and a dangerous passing game with Jordan at the controls.
Tyler scored three touchdowns against Rock Island on runs of 11, 1 and 47 yards. He also had a scintillating 99-yard interception return that snuffed out a Rock Island rally early in the second half.
Sprecher scored from 38 and 8 yards out and Jordan scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Bo Benassi.
Blake Youngren's 45-yard scamper for a TD and Mylee Hansen's eighth PAT in eight attempts set off the running clock.
Hansen also contributed to the Dragons' win on kickoffs. Two of her squib kicks were mishandled by Rock Island and recovered by the Dragons' Connor Drowns and Youngren.
Pekin piled up 467 yards in total offense including 307 rushing, averaged 9.7 yards per play and had 24 first downs.
Tyler had 14 carries for 137 yards and Sprecher ran nine times for 95 yards. Jordan was 8-for-15 passing for 160 yards with Benassi catching four aerials for 88 yards.
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"Having Kanye and Tanner to hand off the ball to really opens things up for me, makes my job easier," Jordan said. "It would be a lot harder if we had to pass all the time."
Pekin's revamped offensive line was supposed to be suspect, but it did its job Friday.
"We knew people were doubting those guys, but they really stepped up. Our offensive line was amazing," Jordan said.
The guys up front Friday were center Blayne Thomas, tackles Elijah DeGroot and William Small, and guards Mason Glasford and Dakota Taylor.
Pekin coach Doug Nutter joined in the praise for the Dragons' offensive line. He said he was most impressed Friday with his team's physicality, and he specifically pointed to the offensive line.
There were other things he liked.
"We had some great drives, our defense played well once it got settled in after being jacked up early, and we responded well to adversity," Nutter said. "But we made some fundamental mistakes that you expect on opening night and we've got to make sure we're good in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — if we want to be successful."
The Dragons gave up a 68-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Rock Island's Quonterrion Brooks on the second-half kickoff that cut their 28-7 halftime lead to 28-13.
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After the Pekin offense's lone three-and-out of the game, the Rocks drove to the Dragons' 14 before Tyler picked off a Connor Diiulio pass and nearly took it all the way to the house at the other end of the field.
Jordan's 1-yard sneak made it 35-13.
It was all Pekin after that as the Rocks, who have made the playoffs 22 times in the last 25 seasons including last year following a 21-0 opening-night loss to the Dragons, allowed three more touchdowns.
Drowns had five solo tackles for the Dragons and Brayden Beckham had four solos.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.