Pekin football stages big rally in near playoff upset against Hononegah
ROCKTON — Pekin had negative yardage on its first four possessions and trailed by three scores.
And then junior quarterback Scotty Jordan began winging it.
“We didn’t expect that,” Rockton Hononegah linebacker Dylan Sayles said. “They are an 80-percent run team. We thought they were going to try to run it down our throat. We didn’t expect that and they got us a little bit.”
“We practice passing all the time,” Jordan said. “We don’t just practice runs. I am ready to flip the switch whenever we have to.”
Jordan set a career high in passing yards and passed Pekin into the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but seventh-ranked Hononegah rallied back to win 31-28 Saturday in the second round of the Class 7A football playoffs.
Jordan completed 10 of 21 passes for 211 yards, including a 62-yarder to Levi Burke to cut an early Hononegah lead to 17-7 and a 91-yarder to Kanye Taylor to put the Dragons ahead for the first time, 28-24.
That powered Pekin's offense on a day the Dragons ran for only 83 yards on 35 carries.
“We started slow,” Jordan said. “Once we figured out what they were doing, it was just a battle from there. It was just manipulating what they do and our guys beating their guys 1-on-1.”
Before trailing for one of the few times all season, Hononegah (11-0) had gained only a total of three first downs on its last five drives. But Hononegah then drove 71 yards on 10 plays — nine of them runs after having its run game shut down most of the afternoon — to take a 31-28 lead.
Blitzing linebacker Dylan Seymour then ended Pekin’s next drive with a sack on fourth-and-7 and Hononegah ran out the clock by churning out a pair of first downs.
“That was riding on everything,” Seymour said of his sack, Hononegah’s ninth tackle for loss by six different players. “We knew they were going to pass. We had to bring pressure and we did.”
“They brought more people than we had blocking,” Jordan said. “There was nothing we could do about that. My line has been amazing all year. We were even teams. They are just like us. We just never got the ball back.”
Hononegah has now won 11 games for only the second time in school history, second only to its 12-1 state semifinal team in 1996. The 1985 team that finished second in Class 4A was 10-4.
Hononegah had lost nine straight games in the second round of the playoffs, but Pekin (8-3) had likewise had limited playoff success. The Dragons have now lost in the first or second round 17 times in a row since 1988.
But the Dragons did make it to the second round for the first time in 10 years, snapping a string of five straight losses in the first round.
After giving up 22 points in the first quarter and a half in the opening round of the playoffs last week, Hononegah’s defense quickly returned to the dominant unit it had been all season until that 18-minute hiccup against Plainfield East.
Sayles stepped into the passing lane on a screen pass and scored on a 20-yard pick-6 to give Hononegah a 7-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game for his fifth career pick-6.
“They just come to me,” Sayles said. “I see the open field and I score.”
That was Hononegah’s 20th interception of the season, but the only turnover they forced the whole game.
A strip sack by Brigham Molander almost gave Hononegah a second defensive touchdown in the first half, but Pekin recovered at the 2 for a 20-yard loss. Still, Hononegah held Pekin to minus-4 yards on its first 20 plays except for a blown coverage on a 62-yard TD pass where Burke was open by 30 yards on third-and-6. That was Pekin’s only first down on its first seven drives.
Hononegah’s offense, though, started slow also. Hono had only 12 yards on its first three drives, but still led 10-0 thanks to Sayles’ pick-6 and a Bryce Givens 30-yard field goal.
Hononegah then ripped off a series of big plays. A 17-yard QB keeper by Isaac Whisenand and Whisenand’s 34-yard pass to Chase Kemmet made it 17-0 on a two-play drive. And Hononegah answered Jordan’s 62-yard pass to Burke with an 88-yard drive highlighted by a 45-yard Stuart Hale run and a 24-yard TD pass to Hale to make it 24-7.
Two possessions later, Pekin mounted the only sustained drive of the first half, going 51 yards in nine plays to cut the deficit to 24-14 on a 1-yard Jordan sneak in the final minute of the half.