Pekin football coach Doug Nutter had some food for thought Friday night after his team’s 56-28 Senior Night win over Limestone in a Mid-Illini Conference and regular-season finale at Memorial Stadium.
“We don’t play cupcakes,” Nutter said about the Dragons (4-5, 3-4).
Certainly not this year.
All five of Pekin’s losses this season were to state playoff teams. Two of those teams — Washington and Sterling — are 9-0. Washington is ranked No. 1 and Sterling is No. 3 in Class 5A.
Mid-Illini powers Washington, Metamora, Morton and Dunlap all beat Pekin and made the playoffs.
Limestone (2-7, 2-5) ended a season that saw the Rockets finally end a 19-game losing streak that dated to the fall of 2016.
“Our seniors have been through a lot. They’ve been resilient, they’ve stuck it out,” said Limestone coach Darin Driscoll. “They’ve righted our ship, pointed us in the right direction.”
Pekin scored on eight of its 10 possessions Friday, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the third quarter.
The Dragons’ two scoreless possessions were kneel-downs that ended the first half and the game. Pekin never punted.
Driscoll’s two biggest fears about Pekin came true.
“They have a huge offensive line, and they destroyed us,” he said. “And they have a lot of speed.”
Pekin quarterback Nathan Righi was a perfect 7-for-7 passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 57 yards on seven carries and a pair of scores, and he was 8-for-8 on PAT’s.
Brayden Cruz was the Dragons’ leading rusher with 79 yards on 13 carries. He had a touchdown run, as did teammate Dalton Selmon.
Pekin’s Conner Rush had a busy night.
He made an acrobatic interception in the first quarter, returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and caught a 60-yard scoring pass in stride from Righi in the fourth quarter.
Righi’s other touchdown pass was a 10-yarder to Sebastian Hill in the first quarter that gave Pekin a lead it would never lose. Later, Hill followed Rush’s kickoff return for a touchdown with a 68-yard return of his own for a TD.
“I like how our team finished strong in the second half last week against East Peoria (a 28-13 win) and in all four quarters against Limestone,” Nutter said.
“Our defense bent against Limestone, but it didn’t break, at least for the first three quarters.”
Down 21-0 at halftime and 42-7 after three quarters, pass-happy Limestone put 21 points on the board in the fourth quarter.
Rockets quarterback Blake Fengel was 31-for-51 passing for 328 yards and four touchdowns.
Nathan Thornton (10 catches, 151 yards), Alex Rupp (13 catches, 133 yards), Frank Driscoll and Ben Hibberd each caught a TD pass from Fengel, who was Limestone’s top rusher with 45 yards on nine carries.
Pekin had two long scoring drives in the second quarter, going 90 yards in 11 plays and 87 yards in seven plays, to build its 21-0 halftime lead.
After the Dragons were assessed a 15-yard delay of game penalty at the start of the second half because of too lengthy Senior Night ceremonies, Rush grabbed the kickoff and ran it back for a score.
A 10-yard punt by Limestone led to a 1-yard run for a TD by Cruz, then the Rockets finally got on the scoreboard on a 25-yard pass from Fangel to Rupp with 5:20 to go in third quarter.
Hill collected the ensuing kickoff and weaved his way through several would-be Limestone tacklers for a TD that pushed Pekin’s lead to 42-7.
Each Limestone kickoff after Hill’s return sailed out of bounds.
Pekin and Limestone combined for 806 yards in total offense, with Limestone accounting for 417. The Rockets had 27 first downs and the Dragons had 22.
Penalties also were plentiful, with Limestone accessed six for 65 yards and Pekin flagged seven times for 75 yards.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.