With league rival Morton threatening, state-ranked Pekin found another way to win

Steve Stein
Journal Star

MORTON — Don't forget about the Pekin defense.

On a rainy, cold night when the Dragons' explosive offense struggled, it was the Pekin defense that stood tall as the state-ranked Dragons stayed undefeated and all alone atop the Mid-Illini Conference with a 14-7 win Friday over upset-minded Morton at Carper Field.

Players and fans were drenched and exhausted as the game ended.

"That was the best offensive line we've faced all season," said 6-foot-2, 270-pound Pekin defensive lineman Brayden Beckham. "But we like to think we're the best defense in the conference, and I think we proved it (Friday).

"I didn't mind being on the field so much (Friday). In fact, I loved it. That's what you live for when you play football."

The Pekin defense runs down Morton receiver Preston Berg in the second half Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Carper Field in Morton.

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Morton dominated time of possession (28:02 to 19:58), ran 68 plays to Pekin's 48 and had 16 first downs to 12 for Pekin (5-0, 3-0, No. 5 in Class 7A).

But the Potters (2-3, 1-2) could only get into the end zone once in their homecoming game.

"We just couldn't finish drives," said Potters coach Tim Brilley. "We did what we wanted to do defensively. We wanted to keep them in front of us and not give up big plays. We even got a couple of turnovers (fumble recoveries by Marcelo Salazar and Conner Hines in the second quarter).

"We see now what we can do when we play four good quarters."

It was a Morton turnover that led to Pekin's winning touchdown, which broke a 7-7 tie.

An interception by the Dragons' Adyn Houston on the third play of the fourth quarter gave Pekin the ball on the Morton 34 with 10:46 left.

Kanye Tyler scored on a 13-yard run with nine minutes to go, and Mylee Hansen booted an extra-long extra point from 25 yards out because of a Pekin penalty.

The game was tied 7-7 at halftime. Morton had two golden opportunities to score in the second half, but never found pay dirt as the Pekin defense bent, but didn't break.

Pekin's Kanye Tyler, facing, hugs teammate Alijah Hart after the Dragons held on to defeat the Morton Potters on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Carper Field in Morton.

The Potters received the second-half kickoff and drove all the way to the Pekin 4 but couldn't get any farther, so they set up for a 22-yard field goal attempt by reliable kicker Cooper Skold.

What appeared to be a fake kick ended up with a pass that was incomplete in the end zone.

"It wasn't a fake kick," Brilley said. "The snap was high and our holder (Micah Wong) didn't like what he saw, so he did the best he could."

After Pekin took the lead on Tyler's touchdown and each team had a three-and-out drive on offense, the Potters launched a final march on their own 26 with 5:01 to go in the game.

They made it to the Pekin 23 with 34 seconds left and called a timeout, facing third-down-and-7.

Dragons coach Doug Nutter gave his defense some encouragement during the much-needed break in the action.

"I told the guys during the timeout that there wasn't another group I wanted on the field than them," Nutter said. "They've played a lot of football. They're resilient."

An incomplete pass in the end zone caused by a Tyler knockdown was followed by a sack of Morton quarterback Jude Hart by Jace Hackman, and the game was over.

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"We knew this was going to be a physical game, and I like how we matched Morton's physicality," Nutter said. "Our defense contained them. They didn't give up any big plays."

Tyler was a standout. He ran 16 times for 115 yards and the decisive touchdown and he led the Pekin defense with eight tackles, several of them crushing.

Brayden Hoover and Beckham each made seven tackles for the Dragons.

Pekin's Tanner Sprecher scored on the game's opening drive on a 1-yard run and he finished with 93 yards on 15 carries.

Brett Michel scored Morton's lone TD on a 4-yard run in the second quarter. While Michel gained 44 yards on 11 carries, Carl Whitaker was the Potters' workhorse. He ran 31 times for 115 yards.

Morton's Brett Michel tries to pull away from Pekin's Brayden Hoover (52) and Connor Drowns (5) in the second half Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Carper Field in Morton.

Neither quarterback had a good night through the air, but passing was tough because of the constant rain.

Pekin's Scotty Jordan was 3-for-11 passing for 18 yards and Hart was 6-for-13 passing for 56 yards.

Jordan did make a major contribution to the Dragons' 272-yard rushing attack, gaining 64 yards on six carries.

Pekin punter Luke Goss had two important punts in the second half, pinning the Potters on their 2 late in the third quarter and getting off a 49-yard punt before Morton's final drive.

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