'She's 1-for-1 on tackles:' Kicker's rare hit, Pekin's elite offense ignite large crowd

Pekin's win is a tale of Mylee Hansen's tackle — and 529 yards of total offense

Steve Stein
Journal Star

PEKIN — Pekin's offensive numbers were gaudy, but not the whole story of the football game.

The undefeated Dragons rolled up 529 yards in total offense Friday night en route to a 49-28 victory over Washington at Memorial Stadium in an early Mid-Illini Conference showdown. The offensive explosion had Pekin fans in the Easter Seals Blackout crowd of about 7,000 roaring all night.

But probably the biggest cheer came late in the game because of a tackle.

It was made by Mylee Hansen, who last season became the first female to play on the Pekin varsity football team.

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Pekin kicker Mylee Hansen, left, pulls down Washington ballcarrier Jacob Walker on a kick return late in the second half Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 at Memorial Stadium in Pekin.

Hansen made an open-field, touchdown-saving tackle along the Pekin sideline on a Washington kickoff return late in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-5, 140-pound junior pulled down 5-7, 145-pound Jacob Walker on the Dragons' 32. Videos of the hit have gone viral.

The tackle earned Hansen, an outstanding soccer player who is in her second season as the Pekin football team's kicker, a standing ovation from the Pekin fans and vigorous congratulations from her teammates and coaches.

"She's 1-for-1 on tackles now," said Pekin coach Doug Nutter.

Hansen was all smiles after the game when she was asked to talk about her tackle. Not her 5-for-6 night on extra points. She said it was the first time she has ever attempted a tackle, in practice or during a game.

"I saw one of my teammates (on the kickoff coverage team) fall and I thought, 'Oh, no, he's (Walker) coming my way.' So I decided to go for the tackle," she said.

"My head hurts a little because of the tackle, but I'm glad I did it. The guy I tackled didn't say anything at the time, but he patted me on the back in the handshake line after the game."

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Pekin's offense shined

Pekin Community High School placekicker Mylee Hansen chats with assistant coach Zac Williams after a scimmage Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. Hansen is the first female varsity football player in the history of the school.

Washington (1-3, 1-1) left Memorial Stadium with a few headaches thanks to the Pekin offense.

Tanner Sprecher had 23 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns for the state-ranked Dragons (4-0, 2-0, No. 6 in Class 7A), who are all alone in first place in the Mid-Illini.

Kanye Tyler had nine carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Scotty Jordan was 9-for-18 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Bo Benassi caught three passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.

"We made some stupid mistakes. We did things we weren't supposed to do. And Pekin made us pay," said Washington coach Darrell Crouch. "They're a difficult team to defend. Sprecher is a tough downhill runner and when Tyler gets to the edge, he has the speed to run past you. Their quarterback is a good passer and they have good receivers.

"I'm glad we scored 28 points, but we could have had more."

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Especially during what turned out to be the turning point of the game midway through the second quarter.

With Washington trailing 14-7, a high snap led to the Panthers tackling Pekin punter Luke Goss on the Dragons' 11.

Pekin's defense didn't budge, and Washington's Mitch Coughlin missed a 29-yard field goal.

"Our defense did a great job there holding things tight," Nutter said.

Pekin's Kanye Tyler (2) slips by the Washington defense in the second half Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 at Memorial Stadium in Pekin.

Back came Pekin. The Dragons drove 80 yards on seven plays after the missed field goal with Sprecher scoring on an 7-yard run, and it was 21-7 with 34.1 seconds left before halftime.

Pekin scored on a 56-yard pass from Jordan to Benassi and an 82-yard run by Tyler to start the second half, and led 35-7 with 5:54 to go in the third quarter.

Washington made things interesting when Jake Stewart threw three touchdown passes in the late stages of the game, but didn't get closer than two touchdowns (35-21 and 42-28).

"We knew Washington wasn't going to go away. They were going to battle to the end," Nutter said.

Stewart finished 12-for-20 through the air for 177 yards. He had a hand in all four Washington touchdowns. His TD passes went to Garrett Cox (13 yards) and Seth Carbaugh (18 and 37 yards) and he scored the Panthers' first TD on an 8-yard run.

Carbaugh caught four passes for 80 yards.

Through the air

All three of Benassi's catches came on perfect throws from Jordan.

"We work hard on that in practice so it can translate to the game," Benassi said. "I was a quarterback in JFL, but I like catching passes now.

"It's great having guys like Tanner and Kanye running the ball. It really loosens up the defense for our receivers."

Jordan threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Shamon Handegan and Sprecher bulled into the end zone from 1 yard out in the first quarter.

A 42-yard touchdown run by Sprecher and a 20-yard TD run by Tyler sandwiched Stewart's second TD pass to Carbaugh in the fourth quarter.

While Sprecher, Tyler, Jordan, Benassi and Hansen grabbed the game's headlines, Nutter didn't want to leave out the Pekin guys up front on offense and defense.

Pekin's Bo Benassi (88) congratulates teammate Tanner Sprecher on Sprecher's touchdown run against Washington late in the fourth quarter Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 at Memorial Stadium in Pekin.

"Our offensive line was great," he said. "Scotty had all night to throw and the line created seams for our running backs. Our defensive line did well, too (Washington had just 87 yards rushing)."

It's been at least two decades since Pekin was undefeated at this stage of the season.

But there's an air of caution in the Dragons' camp.

"We're happy to be 4-0, but four wins doesn't get us in the playoffs. We have to keep working," Nutter said. "The Mid-Illini is a gauntlet."

Benassi agreed with his coach.

"We love to win, but come each Monday, we're back to being focused on the next game," he said.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.