Peoria High strikes a beautiful balance as it opens the playoffs with a blowout victory
PEORIA — Everything came up sunny for Peoria High.
The Lions snapped their two-game playoff losing streak, beating Decatur MacArthur 62-14 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs on a picture-perfect, fall Saturday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. Peoria High (9-1) now hosts 2021 5A runner-up Kankakee (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
All three facets of Peoria High’s game — offense, defense and special teams — started clicking in the second quarter as the Lions rode their offensive balance to a big victory in a playoff opener.
“We finally kind of all got on the same page and put one together,” Peoria High coach Tim Thornton said. “We knew they were going to come out and fight hard early. I feel like they just ran out of horses.
“When we get momentum, it’s rough for whoever we’re playing at that point. When we get going, and we start feeling good, we just roll.”
An eight-point lead quickly turned into a 40-8 halftime advantage thanks to the play of Malachi Washington, recovering a pair of onside kicks, a big interception and its receivers.
Washington scored three of his five touchdowns in the quarter while finishing with 197 yards on 23 carries. The senior running back capped his day in the third quarter with a 40-yard score but was helped off the field with a left leg injury. He had his left ankle taped and celebrated the victory with his teammates.
“Malachi does a very good job of shoving the ball down their throat,” Peoria High quarterback Tino Gist said. “Making them come in the box, then it just allows me to drop back, got all the time because they think he’s going to run the ball, then touchdown.”
Kenny Rutherford then set the halftime score with a 97-yard interception for a touchdown just as the first-half buzzer expired.
But maybe the biggest show came from the Peoria High wide receivers. Ricky Hearn, TQ Webb and Sean Franklin combined for nine catches, 200 yards and a TD.
Hearn, a 6-foot-2, 174-pound senior, has played the entire season with a cast on his left hand. He broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist during the summer.
“It’s almost healed, actually,” Hearn said. “I could get (the cast) off before the state game, but we got to make it there.”
He says the receiving corps just works all practice and does "everything right" when it comes to their technique. Webb, the sophomore, reminds Hearn a lot of himself. Both receivers have track speed, soft hands and catch nearly everything thrown their way.
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“We just do a lot of things the same,” Hearn said of Webb. “He a dog, though. He up next.”
Added Webb, “I look up to him. ... He gets me better. I'm going to take his spot next year."
Gist agrees that his job is made easier by guys like Hearn, Webb and Franklin.
“As long as they do their part,” Gist said, “they make it way easier for me to put the ball where it needs to be.”
Peoria High tallied 437 total yards (237 rushing, 200 passing). Frank Odom added 34 rushing yards and a touchdown for the Lions.
MacArthur (5-5) managed 62 rushing yards and 139 yards. The Lions have now allowed 16.9 points per game.
“The balance, for us, makes us a better football team,” Thornton said.