FOOTBALL

Pekin football stayed perfect with a rout of Metamora and looked like kings doing it

Steve Stein
Journal Star

PEKIN — Pekin coach Doug Nutter had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head.

Dragons running back Kanye Tyler wore a sash and crown along with his football uniform as he did postgame interviews alongside running mate Tanner Sprecher. Each scored three touchdowns in Pekin's 55-13 win over Metamora and Tyler was named homecoming king at halftime.

It was that kind of a fun night Friday for the state-ranked and undefeated Dragons, who mauled Metamora in a Mid-Illini Conference game that was played with a running clock starting with 6:02 left in the third quarter.

"I'm not sure what my duties are as homecoming king," Tyler said. "I guess one will be to dance with the homecoming queen."

The Pekin Dragons huddle around their coach after their 55-13 victory over the Metamora Redbirds on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Pekin.

Pekin perfect so far

The win in front of a Memorial Stadium crowd of about 7,000 kept Pekin (6-0, 4-0, No. 5 in Class 7A) all alone atop the Mid-Illini and clinched a berth in the state playoffs. The Dragons have gotten their Mid-Illini wins against a gauntlet of the conference's top teams: Dunlap, Washington, Morton and Metamora (3-3, 2-2).

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Only Canton, Limestone and East Peoria stand in the way of a perfect regular season for Pekin, which would be the Dragons' first since a Dale Patton-coached team in 2001.

"They're a well-oiled machine. They ran counter after counter (Friday), and we couldn't stop them," Metamora coach Jared Grebner said. "You can't give a team like that a short field like we did a couple times, but it seems like they're always playing on a short field. They can score from anywhere.

"And their defense steps up when it counts," he said, alluding to Metamora drives to Pekin's 23 and 20 in the first half that stalled out.

Pekin's Tanner Sprecher (8) sprints through the Metamora defense for a touchdown in the second half Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Pekin. The Dragons rolled over the Redbirds 55-13.

The Dragons rolled up 455 yards in total offense against the Redbirds including 415 on the ground. They averaged 11.5 yards per carry. Sprecher had 10 carries for 194 yards and Tyler had 12 carries for 130 yards as each ran around and over would-be Metamora tacklers after the Dragons' offensive line opened holes.

"We trust our big guys up front," Tyler said.

Sprecher scored on runs of 80, 1 and 29 yards. Tyler scored from 21, 37 and 5 yards out. Quarterback Scotty Jordan opened Pekin's scoring with a 5-yard TD run and Dante Strong finished it with a 5-yard score.

Jordan didn't need to pass. Not the way the Dragons were running the ball. He was 3-for-3 through the air for 40 yards. His most spectacular completion was a 23-yarder in the second quarter to Bo Benassi that had Grebner shaking his head after the game.

"We had great coverage on that pass," Grebner said, "but Jordan threw a perfect ball and Benassi made a great catch."

When the game turned

Believe it or not, there was a turning point in a game played with a running clock.

After Pekin went ahead 28-0 with 30.7 seconds left in the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown run by Tyler, Metamora drove down the field and scored on a 15-yard pass from Kaden Hartnett to Kendrick Schaffrin on the final play of the first half.

A 34-yard run by Hartnett set up the TD. It was Schaffrin's second catch of the season and his second touchdown.

The Redbirds took the second-half kickoff and on their third play from scrimmage, Pekin's Connor Drowns intercepted a pass. Sprecher scored on a 29-yard run on the Dragons' first play after the pick.

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Pekin's Breyden Beckham caused a fumble and recovered it on Metamora's second play after the kickoff, and this time Tyler scored on a 37-yard run on Pekin's first play.

Suddenly, it was 41-6 with 9:03 left in the third quarter and whatever momentum the Redbirds had gained from their late first-half touchdown had disappeared.

Pekin's Connor Drowns (5), Shamon Handegan (27) and Brayden Hoover celebrate a Metamora turnover in the second half Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Pekin. The Dragons rolled over the Redbirds 55-13.

A three-and-out for Metamora was followed by a 5-yard TD run by Tyler, and the clock began running.

"We challenged our offense and defense after we gave up that late score," Nutter said. "We didn't want to give up any big plays or make turnovers, and we wanted to create turnovers.

"Our offense, defense and special teams all played well (Friday). We learned from last week (a struggling 14-7 win over Morton) that every play counts, we can't have turnovers and mistakes, and we need to finish strong."

Keeping focus

Tyler and Sprecher each said a solid week of practice revived Pekin's offense after "we hurt ourselves last week," Tyler said.

"Fundamentals," Sprecher said about the Dragons' focus in practice.

The state playoffs aren't out of the picture for Metamora, which faces Limestone in Week 7, followed by East Peoria and Dunlap. Five wins makes a team playoff eligible. Six wins guarantees a spot in the post-season.

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"We need to put the blinders on after (the loss to Pekin) and focus on Limestone," Grebner said. "I'm sure our guys are ready for our next practice and game. They like being around each other, whether they're going to a volleyball game or a team dinner. We have great camaraderie."

Metamora's Mark Frederick tries to find a hole in the Pekin defense in the second half Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Pekin. The Dragons rolled over the Redbirds 55-13.

Hartnett ran 12 times for 90 yards against Pekin, but he was just 3-for-10 passing for 24 yards. His TD pass was his fifth of the season. He's run for 10 touchdowns and five two-point conversions.

Backup quarterback Nick Rhoades scored on a 44-yard in the fourth quarter for the Redbirds.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.