'Just amazing': Ball control carries Washington to IHSA playoff football win
WASHINGTON — Thomas Borges ran like a heavyweight into the heart of the Normal West defense Friday in a Class 6A first-round playoff football game.
West knew what was coming — Borges — yet the undersized Washington senior running back delivered a ground-and-pound game to lead the Panthers to a 14-7 victory.
The Panthers (8-2) move on to the second round, where they'll travel to face the winner of a Saturday game between Champaign Centennial and Chicago Kenwood.
"This time of the year, after practices and so many games, I don't know what Borges' weight is anymore," Washington coach Darrell Crouch said. "He got knocked around, but he kept running and running, he did a great job for us.
"He runs so hard. At times it was just amazing."
Borges, listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, carried 38 times for 231 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He even tried to pass on a trick play, floating it too far for an open receiver near the goal line.
"The wind took that one back toward the middle of the field," Borges grinned, while Crouch teased him a few yards away, yelling, "He was open he was open."
But on the ground, Borges gave Washington what every team needs to have in the playoffs -- a strong, relentless running game.
He carried on 16 consecutive plays during a 10-minute drive that ate up the first quarter and crossed into the second quarter. Running mate Cade Biedscheid powered across from the 1 with 11:11 left in the second quarter to finish that monster keepaway possession for a 7-0 lead.
"Our possession, our ball control was huge," Crouch said. "Normal West had weapons we didn't want to see on the field, and we achieved that by holding the ball."
Borges ran four more times on Washington's final possession of the first half, then watched as the Panthers extended it on a fake punt when Evan Grazier caught a 19-yard pass.
Borges then ran for 20, tried his halfback pass, then ran three more times to cap the drive with a touchdown carry from the 4 for a 14-0 lead with 1:24 left.
"To be able to pound at them like that, keep the ball for 10 minutes and keep their offense off the field, that was huge for us," Borges said. "We felt like we could keep things secure after that."
Normal West got on the board on a 12-yard catch in the back left corner of the end zone by Illinois State commit Max Ziebarth, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end.
That cut Washington's lead to 14-7 with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter.
Normal West then forced a punt from Washington and had the ball at midfield with a potential tying possession with 5:09 left.
But Washington senior defensive back Mason Geltz made a huge play, picking off quarterback Jayden Mangruem at the 33 and returning it 52 yards.
"It was getting nerve-wracking," Borges said. "The momentum was building for them, but our defense made that big play."
The Panthers held Normal West to 96 yards in the second half on 28 plays over six possessions, yielding just one touchdown.
"Normal West has some real offensive weapons, can score," Crouch said. "Our defense to hold them to seven points, and not a lot of teams with those matchups could have done that."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.