Metamora makes sure: Why the football power wanted to leave no playoff doubt

Adam Duvall
Journal Star

DUNLAP — That’s six wins and in for Metamora.

The Redbirds officially locked up an Illinois High School Association football playoff spot on Friday night by beating Dunlap 38-6 to close out the regular season. Metamora (6-3) is headed to the playoffs for the 35th time in program history.

“We didn’t want to take this (opportunity) for granted,” Metamora coach Jared Grebner said, “and we wanted to come out and make sure we took care of business.”

Metamora, which finished 5-2 in the Mid-Illini for third place, had the benefit of game planning nearly two weeks for Dunlap. When East Peoria forfeited its Week 8 game, the Redbirds turned their focus immediately to the regular-season finale.

Those extra days of preparation, along with a lot of walk-throughs and film sessions, resulted in a hungry Metamora team executing to near perfection.

“That made a lot of us angry,” Metamora senior quarterback Kaden Hartnett said, “that we missed out on the last home game for the regular season. … Those extra few days made up for missing that game.”

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Hartnett and backfield mate Kameron Davis were the perfect blend of speed and power. The duo rushed for a combined 207 yards and five touchdowns. Jaiduan Cranford added another 55 yards behind the offensive line of Ty Dykes, Ben Wallace, Alex Lehn, Ty Hodel and Boston Cox.

“Our line was amazing,” said Davis, who had 96 yards and three scores. “Hit every single block. No bad pulls. Perfect holes the whole time. That’s what allowed me to run well.”

Metamora quarterback Kaden Hartnett tries to avoid a Washington tackler in the second half Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 at Babcock Field in Washington.

Added Hartnett, “It makes my job easy when you got everybody around you that can execute at a high level.”

Defense, though, was one of the biggest keys to Metamora’s success against the Mid-Illini Conference host. The Redbirds allowed eight points or fewer for the third time this season, with a 19-yard TD from Dunlap’s Alex Evans with 79 seconds left in the game was the defense’s only blemish.

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All told the Eagles (5-4, 4-3) had 72 total yards — 53 passing and 19 rushing on 15 carries. Dunlap quarterback Madyn Burke was sacked four times and threw an interception to Nathan Bartman, who returned it for a 40-yard third-quarter touchdown.

“We treated this like a playoff game,” Wallace said. “I mean, we were both 5-3 entering this, so this was a playoff game pretty much. We just put our heads in the dirt and started grinding. … We were ready to play football.”

After losing its final four regular-season games last season, Metamora rides some momentum into this year’s playoffs. Those good vibes for the Redbirds come with winning three in a row as well as five of their last six.

Plus, it’s been six years since Metamora’s last playoff victory — a 2016 Class 5A second-round win over Highland, 28-7.

“This will be nice carrying this win into the playoffs, for sure,” Hartnett said. “We’re ready to make some noise, you know, we’re not satisfied with this win or losing next week, one round in.

“We’re trying to carry this as far as we can.”

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