PEKIN — The first half belonged to the defenses. The second half belonged to the quarterbacks.
In the end, Washington earned a hard-fought 26-21 victory over Pekin in a Mid-Illini Conference football game Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
It was a rebound win for Washington (5-2, 4-1), which lost 28-14 last week to Dunlap in a showdown for first place in the conference.
Pekin (3-4, 2-3) lost at home for the first time this season. The Dragons had won their three previous games at Memorial Stadium.
All the scoring Friday was done in the second half.
Washington, which had two touchdown runs called back because of penalties in the first half, scored on its first three second-half possessions and ended up scoring on four of six.
"Our kids didn't panic after the scoreless first half," said Washington coach Darrell Crouch. "That was good to see."
Pekin scored touchdowns on three of its five second-half possessions.
Washington quarterback Caleb Fisher ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior also played the entire game at defensive back.
"I don't know any other quarterback in our conference who goes both ways like that," Crouch said. "Caleb has been doing that for two years. He's a tough kid."
Pekin quarterback Quinn Theleritis was 21-for-33 through the air for 311 yards and three TDs. He was not intercepted. The 6-4, 210-pound senior also was the Dragons' leading rusher with 45 yards on 12 carries.
Brad Johnson (six catches, 148 yards) hooked up with Theleritis on two touchdown passes. Christian Hill (seven catches, 76 yards) had the other TD reception from Theleritis.
"It was a game of big plays, and they made one more big play than us," said Pekin coach Doug Nutter, referring to a 14-yard, third-down pass from Fisher to Josh Schellenberg that kept the Panthers' final scoring drive alive late in the fourth quarter.
"We competed hard for four quarters," Nutter said. "We laid it all on the line and gave ourselves an opportunity to win."
That opportunity came with less than a minute left in the game.
Down 26-21, Pekin apparently pulled off a successful onside kick, but the officials ruled otherwise and Washington ran out the clock.
Washington received the second-half kickoff and scored on its third play, an 8-yard run by Fisher that immediately followed a 49-yard run by Schellenberg (12 carries, 91 yards).
After a three-and-out for Pekin, the Panthers struck again on a 1-yard touchdown run by Schellenberg. That made it 12-0 following a missed PAT and missed 2-pointer on Washington's two TDs.
Those misses loomed large when the Dragons broke through for a score on a 28-yard TD pass from Theleritis to Johnson. Nathan Righi's first of three PATs cut Washington's lead to 12-7 with 1:09 to go in the third quarter.
Fisher raced 71 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, keeping the ball after twice faking handoffs, and a conversion run by Sam Walter gave Washington a 20-7 lead.
Back came Pekin, scoring on a 53-yard pass from Theleritis to Johnson when a Washington defender slipped on the wet turf after Johnson made the catch.
"We can't use the field as an excuse. Both teams played on it," Crouch said.
A 4-yard touchdown run by Fisher that followed the crucial third-down pass to Schellenberg put Washington up 26-14 with 1:50 left.
Pekin wasn't done, scoring on a 20-yard pass from Theleritis to Hill with 53 seconds to go.
Washington outgained Pekin 322-79 on the ground. Pekin had a 311-58 yardage advantage in the air.
"I thought our inside defense did a great job stopping Pekin's run," Crouch said. "Their passing game is good."
Nutter praised his offensive line for providing solid protection for Theleritis, who was sacked only once.
Walter had seven solo tackles for Washington. Sophomore Devin Tovrea matched that for Pekin.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.