Going for two: Why Washington wanted its football fate decided on one play

Steve Stein
Peoria Journal Star

PEKIN — It wasn't a decision. It was a necessity.

Washington trailed Pekin by one point Friday after scoring a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Noah Berlett to Isaac Mapson with 8.2 seconds left in the game. The Panthers went for a two-point conversion instead of having reliable placekicker Paul Sporrer boot an extra point.

Berlett passed to his left to Thomas Borges, who got into the extra zone and propelled the Panthers to a 22-21 victory in a Mid-Illini Conference slugfest on a muddy field at Memorial Stadium.

Drew Lewis

The late touchdown and two-pointer gave Washington (4-2, 3-1) its first and only lead in Pekin's homecoming game.

So why go for two and not play it safe?

"We didn't want to go into overtime," Washington coach Darrell Crouch. "You start from the 10-yard line on your possessions in overtime. Pekin is bigger and stronger than us. They'd just pound the ball on us. We're better against them offensively in space."

Washington star Drew Lewis wasn't as analytical as his coach.

"I wanted us to go for two when we scored," he said. "We're a great team. We knew we could do it."

Scoreboard:Week 6 scores from around the Peoria area

Pekin coach Doug Nutter said he wasn't surprised Washington went for the win.

"If we were on the road," he said, "I would have done the same thing."

Pekin head coach Doug Nutter watches his team battle the Dunlap Eagles in the second half Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 in Pekin. The Dragons defeated the Eagles 27-7.

After all the slipping and sliding it did in the Memorial Stadium mud, Washington slid into a three-way tie for first place atop the Mid-Illini standings with Metamora and Morton.

Washington's late heroics against Pekin capped off a comeback that came as unexpectedly as a drenching pre-game rain shower.

Pekin (4-2, 2-2) led 14-0 with 3:56 left in the third quarter after a 4-yard touchdown pass from Scotty Jordan to Shamon Handegan and conversion run by Kanye Tyler.

At that point, the Dragons hadn't given up any points for eight-plus quarters over a three-game stretch.

Washington gets a kickoff spark

Lewis ended the streak when he returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.

"At first, I was just looking to give us good field position," he said about the return. "But then I cut back and saw I had a chance to to go all the way. We needed some energy. We needed something to change the game."

The game was changed.

After forcing Pekin into a three-and-out, the Panthers suddenly started to move the ball against the Dragons' defense.

A 68-yard drive on 12 plays culminated with an 6-yard touchdown run by Jack Limas, and it was 14-14 with 7:03 to go in the game.

It wasn't a fancy march.

"We used the same set on that drive and ran three plays, which allowed us to run on the grass instead of the mud," Crouch said. "Our offense finally got going against them."

Back came Pekin.

The Dragons drove 70 yards on 12 plays with Jordan scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 1:44 remaining in the game.

Mylee Hansen was setting up to boot the PAT when Pekin was penalized 5 yards for illegal procedure. Mason Nauman filled in for Hansen and kicked the extra point.

Washington's game-winning drive

Washington's Thomas Borges (22) gets a pat on the helmet from teammate Cade Biedscheid in the first half Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 at Babcook Field. The Panthers defeated the Potters 35-14.

Washington began its game-winning drive on its own 45 with 1:36 to go.

After Berlett threw to Mapson to get the Panthers out of a fourth-and-three predicament, the two hooked up on the next play for a touchdown pass as the 6-foot-6 Mapson used his height to outleap a defender.

Both coaches were drained emotionally after the game. But one was understandably ecstatic and the other was understandably despondent.

"It was a war out there," Crouch said. "It was tough to play on that field."

"It was a hard, physical game, and they made one more play than us," Nutter said in the quiet Pekin locker room. "Our offensive line did a great job on that last drive (that put Pekin ahead 21-14)."

Each quarterback was efficient in the muddy conditions.

Berlett was 10-for-17 through the air for 91 yards. Jordan was 10-for-15 for 123 yards.

Borges gained 74 yards on 12 carries.

Tyler rushed for 79 yards on 21 attempts and Pekin's Tanner Sprecher had 74 yards on 15 carries.

Tyler scored on a 2-yard  run with 2:08 left in the first half that followed a 33-yard pass from Jordan to Bo Benassi, giving the Dragons a 6-0 halftime lead.

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