On quest in quarterfinals
Washington football coach Darrell Crouch wore shorts Saturday, and the fierce wind and frigid temperature did not seem to bother him too much.
The weather conditions did not bother his players, either, as the Panthers beat Dunlap, 28-14, in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The temperature was in the low 30s. The wind gusted and blew snow flurries across the field. Players hovered around the electric heaters to stay warm on the sidelines.
“Once we had the wind in our favor, we did OK,” Crouch said. “It was a good win for us.”
The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage and used a punishing, straight-ahead running game to wear down Dunlap.
Junior running backs Justin Riley and Colton Underwood each ran for more than 100 yards.
Dunlap, which had several runs for losses, accumulated a total of zero yards on the ground.
“We have a lot of faith in our offensive line,” Crouch said. “They controlled the game today.”
Washington led 21-0 (on three Riley touchdown runs), at halftime, but Dunlap scored twice in the third quarter to make the game interesting.
Dunlap quarterback Logan Schrader hit receiver Brian Gaines for an 18-yard touchdown pass on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half.
Later in the third quarter, Dunlap senior Cameron Tyler blocked a punt and Zach Simmons recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Washington (10-1) sealed the victory with a five-minute drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with an Underwood 10-yard touchdown run.
Earlier in the drive, Underwood ran for a big first down on fourth down and one.
Underwood turned several third and fourth down plays into first downs throughout the game.
“When we get in those situations, we have confidence that Colton or Justin can get us the yards we need,” Crouch said.
During the Panthers’ final drive of the first half, Underwood made a first down on fourth-and-two and fourth-and-three to keep the drive going. Riley scored with 36 seconds left in the half to give Washington the 21-0 lead.
Washington had 20 first downs for the game. The Eagles only had seven.
Dunlap’s offense could not get on track in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles had a 55-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty, but that was the closest they came to gaining any ground on the Panther defense.
“They whipped us up front,” said Dunlap coach Jeff Alderman. “They beat us on the line, and we couldn’t move the ball.”
The Panther defense also put plenty of pressure on Schrader.
With five seconds left in the first quarter, Schrader fumbled and Panther senior Jacob Weston recovered the ball at the Dunlap 18-yard line, which set up a Riley touchdown.
It was the Panthers’ second victory over the Eagles this season. Washington won at Dunlap, 21-0, in week 4 of the regular season.
This time around, Crouch credited Dunlap (6-5) for making it a close game in the third quarter.
“You have to give Dunlap credit. Down 21-0 in these conditions, they could have folded, but they hung tough,” he said.
Familiar playoff opponent: Washington will host Metamora (11-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Babcook Field.
The Panthers will have faced the Redbirds in each of their last three playoff appearances.
Metamora won second-round matchups in 2004, the start of their five-year reign atop the Mid-Illini Conference, and in 2007.
Washington is riding a nine-game winning streak when the rivals meet this time.
Metamora, the defending 5A state champion, has won 25 consecutive games. Its last loss came in the semifinals in 2006 against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
The Panthers lost 35-0 back in the second week at the Redbirds’ Malone Field.
“We have a chance to redeem ourselves,” said Crouch of a game in which Washington did not play well. “We’re excited to be playing this one.”
During their long string of victories, the Panthers have found a way to prevail under a variety of circumstances.
“The kids are going to be pretty confident,” said Crouch.
Metamora, which surpassed 350 yards on the ground in a 35-20 second-round win over Streator, likely will turn to familiar running options in the playbook.
The Redbirds also may throw the ball in spots to keep Washington off balance.
“Goals will collide. We’ll see how we can do,” Crouch said. “It would be, for our program, a very huge win.”
Crouch is seeking strong play from the defensive line and linebackers and an offensive that capitalizes on its opportunities.
The players are eager to show they can play a lot better than they did in the Mid-Illini opener.
In an effort to be in the best shape possible for the quarterfinal clash, the Panthers’ practices Monday and yesterday were light before the intensity increases today and tomorrow.
“It’s important to be at our best for this game,” Crouch said.
Babcook Field likely will hold its largest crowd of the season with fans filling both sides.
“It should be a great atmosphere for both teams to play in,” said Crouch.
Washington will put its 5-0 home record on the line against the team ranked No. 1 in the state in the final Associated Press regular-season poll.
Upcoming: The winner meets either Decatur MacArthur (9-2) or Cahokia (10-1) in the semifinals.
If Washington emerges victorious vs. Metamora, it would either host Cahokia or travel to MacArthur.
— Bryan Veginski contributed to this story