Peoria High football lost the conference title. Here's why that could be a good thing

Adam Duvall
Journal Star

NORMAL — The weather (and oftentimes itself) proved to be Peoria High football's worst enemy.

Normal West capitalized off five Peoria High turnovers to claim a 30-6 victory in a driving rainstorm Friday night in a matchup of state-ranked football teams.

Class 5A No. 4 Peoria High (7-1, 5-1) is knocked out of the Big 12 Conference title hunt. Class 6A No. 8 Normal West (7-1, 6-0) faces Champaign Centennial (7-1, 6-0) for the Big 12 title in Week 9.

“Obviously, weather didn’t bode well for us,” Peoria High coach Tim Thornton said. “We didn’t do a good job handling the ball. … Just didn’t take care of business.”

Quick start for Peoria

Peoria High grabbed a 6-0 lead on its opening drive as Malachi Washington helped march the Lions right down the field.

The senior running back carried it 10 times and capped the seven-minute, 12-play, 76-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown. He finished with 199 yards on 37 carries and upped his season totals to 1,891 yards and 27 total TDs in eight games.

Malachi Washington and more:The Peoria area's top performances from Week 8

“I really don’t mind,” the 5-foot-10, 206-pound senior said of playing in the rain. “You just got to be a ballplayer and go for it.”

A recovered onside kick on the ensuing possession appeared that Peoria High would push its streak of scoring at least 50 points to six games in a row. Quarterback Tino Gist found TQ Webb for a 27-yard gain before Peoria High's offense stalled and turned the ball over on downs for the first of four times.

“We had good confidence as a team,” Washington said, “but we have to work on when bad things happen, stay together as a family and finish. When adversity happens, we got to stick through it as a family and keep pushing.

"That’s a lesson learned, and we’ll going to take it and get better on Monday at practice.”

What's next for Peoria High?

Thornton, though, remained positive about his team’s trajectory for the remainder of the season. This loss could potentially be comparable to Peoria High losing to Galesburg in Week 9 of the 2016 campaign before winning the 5A state championship.

“As a program, we’ve been in this situation before,” he said, “where we’re cruising along — everything’s going good — you listen to the news and everybody tells you how good you are … at some point, a situation like this can be good for you, reset you, get you back on track and show everybody that you’re not invincible. We got to keep getting better.

“We’ll dwell on (this loss) just long enough to go get things fixed.”

How Normal West won the game

Normal West had no trouble taking advantage of short fields and sloppy conditions.

Jayden Mangruem’s 7-yard QB sneak tied the game at 6-6 just 118 seconds into the second quarter. A pick-6 from Xavier Edwards at the second quarter’s 8:58 mark helped put the Wildcats up 13-6 heading into halftime.

From there, Peoria High, plagued by penalties all game, could only watch as Normal West scored 23 second-half points despite a very anemic offense. Seven Wildcats ball carriers had 72 total rushing yards. Gavin Camp’s 42 yards on seven touts were a team-high.

Looking for scores?High school football Week 8 results from around the Peoria area

Mangruem finished 6-for-13 passing with 63 yards and a 7-yard, fourth-quarter score to Michael Williams.

The Lions managed 247 total yards (213 rushing, 34 passing) and scored 48.3 points under their average.

“Team,” Normal West coach Nathan Fincham said of the key to containing Peoria High. “You got to play like a team. You can’t try to tackle (Washington) on his own. I mean look at that kid — he’s unbelievable. He’s a specimen.

“For us, we knew that once we hit him once, we had to get two or three other guys there because on film, he’s unbelievable at shedding tacklers then nobody’s there to take him down.”

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.