How one defensive play changed the football fortune for state-ranked Pekin

Adam Duvall
Journal Star

DUNLAP — First, a big play on defense. Then Tanner Sprecher made good on the offensive side of the ball, as well.

Late-game heroics from the Pekin senior helped lift Class 7A’s ninth-ranked team to a 28-19 win over Mid-Illini Conference host Dunlap. The Dragons (3-0, 1-0) won on the road in this league series for the first time since 2013.

Sprecher picked off Eagles quarterback Madyn Burk with under five minutes to play, halting a driving Dunlap. The interception was one of four on the night by the Pekin defense, which is now allowing 20.3 points per game.

“We have all kinds of good players on this team,” Sprecher said, “but I knew I had to step up on that last defensive drive right there. I knew me getting that interception really changed the momentum completely at the end of the game.”

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His 4-yard run set up a fourth-and-1 before a penalty gave Pekin new life. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back proceeded to put the game on ice with 12 yards on his next two carries. He finished with 148 yards on 16 carries including a second-quarter score from 38 yards out.

Dunlap (1-2, 0-1) and Pekin traded turnovers late in the fourth quarter — Nick Mueller recovering a fumble on a Pekin kickoff, then Connor Drowns getting an interception on Dunlap’s second drive of the quarter.

“Sloppy,” Pekin coach Doug Nutter said. “We were sloppy on both sides. … We faced adversity, but I thought we did a great job of finishing it at the end.”

Nutter pointed to his defense as especially key in not letting Dunlap get back into the game. The Pekin defensive line of Brayden Beckham, Jace Hackman and Austin Piro keyed in on Brayden Orr.

The 6-foot, 200-pound running back tallied just 32 yards on 19 carries. He scored a 4-yard TD with 5:51 to play in the third quarter. Dunlap managed just 62 yards on the ground in the game.

“Our defensive line did a great job holding a great running back to that many yards,” Nutter said.

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Pekin QB Scotty Jordan (96 passing yards, 7 rushing) scored on a pair of 1-yard sneaks, while Kanye Tyler set the final score for Pekin with a 10-yard sprint into the endzone. Tyler ran for 112 yards on 13 rushes and caught two passes for 26 yards.

“We brought the energy today,” Tyler said. “We just kept going. We kept punching them in the mouth. … We’re just going to keep running hard and we’re going to keep doing it throughout the season.”

Burk completed his first six passes including a pretty 36-yard TD pass to Ryan Dietz to make it 7-6 at the 9:32 mark of the second quarter. The senior QB finished 13-for-23 with 253 yards and four interceptions.

Dunlap’s Evan Marmion caught two passes for 89 yards with Graham Glover hauling in five balls for 52 yards.

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.