Panthers’ defense impenetrable

Tom Batters
Running stride-for-stride:?Washington senior Chase Catton, No. 8, and Dunlap’s Alex Fitzpatrick reach for a pass Friday night during the Panthers’ 21-0 Mid-Illini Conference football victory. Washington hosts Limestone this week for its Homecoming game.

With 15 seconds left in the first half against Dunlap Friday night, Washington led, 7-0, and coach Darrell Crouch could have just let the clock run out.

Instead, he decided to try one last shot at the end zone before halftime.

The result was a 50-yard touchdown pass from Drew Schlink to Chase Catton that gave the Panthers a charge going into the locker room and deflated Dunlap’s hopes.

Catton leaped over the defender and caught the ball against his shoulder.

He juggled the ball before securing it and landing on his feet just about an inch from the sideline. He then dodged the cornerback and safety, and ran another 20 yards for the TD.

Tony Ramadani’s extra point was good and the Panthers took a 14-0 lead into the half.

They won, 21-0, to improve to 3-1 (2-1 in the Mid-Illini Conference).

“Drew threw a great pass right to my outside shoulder,” Catton said. “I saw the two defenders coming toward me, but I knew if I could hold onto the ball and stay in bounds, I would have a shot at the end zone.”

Justin Riley, a junior fullback, ran for 149 yards and scored the other two Washington touchdowns.

Early in the second quarter, Riley broke free for a 30-yard run that took the Panthers down to the Dunlap 20-yard line.

On the next play, he caught a screen pass and ran to the one-yard line. He plowed straight ahead for the touchdown on the next play.

“Our offense was good enough to get us 21 points tonight,” Crouch said. “We missed a few big home run plays, and we made a few mistakes, but overall it was good enough to get us the win.”

Catton said Riley’s effort was the key to the game.

“Justin plays a huge role for us, whether he is running the ball or running routes out of the backfield,” he said. “We need him to do those things if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Riley caught three passes for 29 yards. Schlink was 4-for-9 for 79 yards passing.

Crouch said Riley, who usually runs straight ahead, had some good running plays outside the tackles.

“We thought we could have some success running outside against Dunlap,” Crouch said. “Justin did a nice job whenever he had the ball.”

Crouch said he was especially pleased with his defense, which recorded its second straight shutout (Washington beat Canton, 35-0, last week).

“There were some big hits tonight,” he said. “The defensive line did a great job. When they do their job, we have a good chance to win.”

Washington held Dunlap to just 30 rushing yards and 109 total yards.

The Eagles committed five turnovers (four fumbles and one interception) and never managed a sustained scoring drive.

“We played with a lot more intensity the last couple games,” said Catton, who plays both ways (wide receiver and defensive back). “For some reason, we didn’t have that intensity as much in the first couple games, but we have it back now.”

Dunlap coach Jeff Alderman said his team was beaten at the line of scrimmage for the whole game.

“We have to be able to run the ball, and we just couldn’t get any kind of a running game going,” he said. “Give some credit to Washington’s defensive line. They outplayed our offensive line.”

The win snapped a five-game Panther losing streak against Dunlap.

Washington plays at home against Limestone at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Limestone (1-3, 0-3) lost at home to Canton, 34-21, last week.

Washington is tied with Morton for second place in the Mid-Illini Conference.

East Peoria and Metamora, the two undefeated league teams left, play Friday night at the Raiders’ Clatt Field.