Little guys put up big numbers to help surging Washington extend win streak
WASHINGTON — Two of the smallest guys on the field and a big play from deep in the playbook launched the Washington football team to an important Mid-Illini Conference victory Friday night.
Juniors Kainon McQueary and Jase Harlan, listed at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds and 5-9, 180, respectively, were monsters on offense and defense in the Panthers' 24-7 win over Dunlap in front of a well-chilled crowd at Babcook Field.
It was the third straight victory for surging Washington (4-3, 4-1), which took over sole possession of second place in the Mid-Illini behind undefeated and state-ranked Pekin.
Dunlap (4-3, 3-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped and slipped into a third-place tie with Metamora and Morton in the conference.
Washington is rolling
Washington is a young team that's getting better each week, and now the Panthers have a shot at making the state playoffs after starting the season 1-3.
"That's the best game we've played all year," Harlan said about the win over Dunlap. "Everyone was great. Everyone played for the guy next to him. For me, our defensive linemen opened things up for the linebackers to make plays."
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Harlan made plenty of plays from his middle linebacker post and he celebrated enthusiastically after each one. He had 10 tackles including nine solos, a sack and three tackles for loss.
McQueary ran around and through the Eagles, rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He also caught two passes for 26 yards and had an interception on defense.
One of McQueary's runs put a smile on his face during a post-game interview. He was asked about flattening a Dunlap player during a 40-yard gain late in the first quarter.
"I saw that guy before I ran over him. It's a guy who talks a lot. I had to make a point," McQueary said. "I don't care if I run over or past someone. I just want to help my team."
Deep into the playbook
The big play that made a big difference came late in the second quarter with Washington holding a 10-7 lead.
Panthers coach Darrell Crouch said it was a play he hadn't called since a 2018 state playoff game against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Freshman wide receiver AJ Jones took a pitch from quarterback Jake Stewart, stopped after a few steps, and the southpaw threw the ball across the field to Stewart, who was open but needed to dance around a couple of defenders to get into the end zone with 5.3 seconds to go in the first half.
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"We told AJ to either pass the ball to Jake or throw it away so we could have time to kick a field goal," Crouch said.
Crouch said the play worked against Sacred Heart-Griffin, but it didn't result in a touchdown.
Defense does it for Washington
While Dunlap scored seven points against Washington, the Panthers' defense pitched a shutout.
The Eagles' only TD came on a 40-yard fumble recovery by Gabe Munoz midway through the first quarter. A hit by Dunlap's Nick Mueller on a Washington ball carrier caused the fumble.
Stewart ran 63 yards for a touchdown on an option play on Washington's second snap after Dunlap's TD. That started a run of 24 straight points for the Panthers that included a 25-yard field goal by Mitch Coughlon and the pass from Jones to Stewart in the second quarter, and a 34-yard TD run by McQueary early in the third quarter.
The fumble that led to Dunlap's lone touchdown turned out to be Washington's lone turnover of the game.
Stewart was effective in running the Panthers offense. The senior QB completed 4-of-8 passes for 67 yards and running five times for 75 yards.
Crouch praised his defense, noting that Dunlap has a dangerous passing game. The Panthers outgained the Eagles 327-110 including 256-38 on the ground, holding Dunlap to 1.6 yards per carry rushing.
Dunlap quarterback Madyn Burke was just 6-for-12 through the air for 72 yards. He was intercepted by Seth Carbaugh in the fourth quarter.
Burke missed one play when he was injured midway through the third quarter. Johnny Bargen replaced him and was pressured out of the pocket before throwing a pass that was intercepted by McQueary.
The lone bright spots for Dunlap's offense were Brayden Orr (17 carries for 53 yards) and Graham Glover (three catches for 60 yards).
With four victories in the books, Washington and Dunlap each has a chance to make the state playoffs. Two wins in their final two regular-season games will send them into the postseason. One win will make each playoff eligible. Washington will finish at Canton in Week 8 and home against Morton in Week 9. Dunlap will travel to Morton in Week 8 and host Metamora in Week 9.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.