By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — PEKIN — The first football playoff game at Pekin High School in a decade was not played on a picture perfect night.
There was wind and there was rain which only increased at times in intensity as the night continued. The rain was so constant throughout the day that by the time the 7 p.m. kickoff rolled around, Tom Stone Field was already soaked and forced the opening kickoff to take place in one of two visible puddles that had developed in the middle of the gridiron.
It all sounds like an environment nobody would want to be a part of for any high school football game. After 11 years without a playoff win, however, Pekin players were ready to go through anything in order to snap a six-game postseason losing streak.
In the end, the Panthers turned a soggy Wednesday night into a beautiful evening for their fans. For the first time since 2002, Pekin picked up a postseason football win with a dominant 43-0 shutout against Lone Tree in the opening round of the Class A State Football Playoffs.
They were soaked. They were covered in pieces of turf. But the Pekin locker room was as loud and enthusiastic as ever after finally getting that long sought-after postseason win.
“It was a hell'uva time out there,” Pekin senior Petie Clubb said with a huge smile on his face. “We didn’t stop executing, but we had some fun. We slid on the turn and just had to hold on tight to each run and each tackle.”
Clubb joined teammate Chase Copeland to establish a healthy running attack yet again for the Panthers. Copeland, a junior, led the charge narrowly over Clubb with 90 rushing yards on 14 carries to Clubb’s 81 rushing yards.
But no matter got the ball between the two, most of the night the end result was a productive run for the Panthers setting up one of the five touchdowns the offense would produce in the victory.
“Without my offensive line, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. It was fun out there, even if it was a little wet,” Copeland said after producing one touchdown with a 17-yard dash late in the first quarter. “I knew I had to hold onto the ball with two hands. It was definitely slick and we knew coming in we were going to run the ball all the way. We just couldn’t pass in those conditions.”
Just five nights after losing out on being the first Panther team to win a district title since 2003, the week of practice leading up to the playoffs centered on keeping possession of the football. In the district title game loss to BGM last Friday, two late turnovers deep in Bears’ territory snuffed out potential scoring drives that could have made the difference in an eventual 19-7 loss.
“It was important to hold on to that football. The less turnovers we have, the better chance we’re always going to have to win the game,” Copeland said. “We put the ball on the ground in the Montezuma game (19 days ago). We could have scored much more than we did in that game.”
Controlling the football would prove to be difficult for both Lone Tree and Pekin on the rainy night. The ball hit the ground 10 times combined between the two teams, but for the Panthers just once did one of those fumbles turn into a lost possession.
And by then, it was too late for the visiting Lions to do much to turn the game around. Pekin had already stormed out of the gates in the opening quarter, following up a seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive to kick off the contest by scoring on a Lone Tree fumble in the end zone to open a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the postseason clash.
“We pretty much ran power football all night,” Clubb, who finished the game-opening drive with the first of his two touchdown runs, said. “It was power left and power right. Our lineman just tore it up for us and we just had to run behind them.”
Even if Lone Tree had been gifted with better starting field position due to a Panther miscue, there was little the Lions likely would have been able to do with it. Lone Tree was limited to just 52 total yards of offense, most of which came in the fourth quarter with Pekin already up by 43.
And while Lone Tree (6-4) struggled to establish its offense, Pekin (8-2) continued to pour it on in the downpour. Copeland’s 17-yard score capped a second straight touchdown drive for the offense before a 43-yard burst by Tanner Adam and Clubb’s second score capped a second quarter that was also owned by the Panthers, leading to a 36-0 lead at the half of the Lions.
“Coach (Joe Donovan) was kind of worried at the start of the game. He wasn’t sure if our intensity was where it should be,” Clubb said. “Lone Tree kind of came out thinking they had a chance, but we started playing at a high tempo. We turned it up once the game got going and, once we got that defensive score, (Lone Tree) I think wanted it to be halftime.”
No. 10 Pekin is now two wins away from a trip to the UNI-Dome for the first time since the 2007 season. Having finally erased its recent postseason curse on Wednesday, the Panthers will look to exercise some recent postseason demons on Monday as Pekin heads to No. 8 Lisbon (8-2), who handed the Panthers its most recent first-round exit last year 14-0 at home.
“We heard all the statistics about how Pekin always loses in the postseason,” Clubb said. “This year has been kind of a reverse-the-curse kind of a deal. To put that on top of everything else, you’ve got a team with a lot of hope and a lot of determination.”
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Class A State Playoffs, First Round
No. 10 Pekin 43, Lone Tree 0
Lone Tree 0 0 0 0 — 0
Pekin 22 14 7 0 — 43
Scoring By Quarters
P — Petie Clubb 2 yard run (run failed), 9:15
P — Cade Millikin fumble recovery in end zone (Chase Copeland run), 8:32
P — Copeland 17 yard run (Petie Clubb run), 4:24
P — Tanner Adam 43 yard run (Clubb run), 10:05
P — Clubb 8 yard run (kick failed), 1:46
P — Kolby Allsup 11 yard run (Bryan Brain kick), 5:27
First downs 5 20
Rushes-yards 29-52 40-262
Passing yards 0 13
Total Yards 52 275
Comp-Att-Int 0-3-0 1-3-1
Return Yards 7-52 4-15
Fumbles-Lost 6-2 4-1
Penalties-Yds 6-38 4-40
RUSHING — Jared Hudson 10-35 yards, fumble, Jake Callan 7-16 yards, Nick Viner 9-3 yards, fumble, Ty Schillerstrom 2-2 yards, Drake Hotz 1-(-4) yards.
PASSING — N. Viner 0-3, 0 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Schillerstrom 1-0 yards.
TACKLES — Ty Robertson 8, Cody Icenogle 7, fumble recovery, Trenton Gosnell 6, Schillerstrom 6, Keaton Kane 4, Greg Feldman 3, Drake Dauber 2, Travis Gillham 2, Jake Viner 2, Thomas Viner 2, Matthew Waldschmidt 2, Matt Wieland 2, Shay Hudachek, Hudson, Michael Schmidt.
RUSHING — Chase Copeland 14-90 yards, TD, Petie Clubb 8-81 yards, 2 TD, Tanner Adam 1-43 yards, TD, Kolby Allsup 7-28 yards, TD, fumble, Jeff Brain 6-15 yards, Trevor Northup 2-3 yards, Christian Wittrock 1-2 yards, Tyler Copeland 1-0 yards.
PASSING — Allsup 1-1, 13 yards, Northup 0-2, 0 yards, INT.
RECEIVING — Brody Long 1-13 yards.
TACKLES — Clubb 9, Cole Reighard 9, sack, Wittrock 6, Millikin 5, Eric Adam 4, T. Adam 4, sack, Bond 4, John Hollingsworth 4, Allsup 3, Colton Lanman 3, sack, Long 3, fumble recovery, Jayden Nicholson 3, sack, C. Copeland, Joe Hagedon, Kyle Miller, blocked kick, Ryan Swanson, Keaton Winn, fumble recovery.
No. 2 BGM 19, No. 6 Pekin 7
BGM 7 10 0 2 — 19
Pekin 7 0 0 0 — 7
Scoring By Quarters
B — Bryan Kriegel 1 yard run (Kyle Gritsch kick), 6:21
P — Chase Copeland 7 yard run (Bryan Brain kick), 4:47
B — Kriegel 1 yard run (Gritsch kick), 4:55
B — Gritsch 36 yard field goal, 1:47
B — Safety, 1:47
First downs 19 10
Rushes-yards 43-124 36-115
Passing yards 136 64
Total Yards 260 179
Comp-Att-Int 9-21-1 3-9-1
Return Yards 3-38 4-53
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 4-2
Penalties-Yds 12-73 4-32
RUSHING — Jack Kline 29-123 yards, Cole Olson 1-2 yards, Kyle Gritsch 4-0 yards, Bryan Kriegel 9-(-1) yards, 2 TD.
PASSING — Kriegel 9-20, 136 yards, INT, Kline 0-1, 0 yards.
RECEIVING — Zac Freese 2-46 yards, Mayson Sherwood 4-46 yards, fumble, Colton Ryan 2-33 yards, Gritsch 1-11 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Tyler Thompson 1-28 yards.
TACKLES — Adam Hawkins 12, Gritsch 11, Colton Ryan 8, fumble recovery, Shane Slaymaker 5, sack, Kline 4, Cooper Puls 4, Sherwood 4, Scott Brau 3, sack, Freese 3, Geert Boelen, Olson, Thompson, fumble recovery.
RUSHING — Petie Clubb 9-49 yards, fumble, Chase Copeland 7-41 yards, TD, fumble, Kolby Allsup 10-25 yards.
PASSING — Allsup 3-9, 64 yards.
RECEIVING — Christian Wittrock 1-46 yards, Jared Bond 1-9 yards, Brody Long 1-9 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Allsup 1-0 yards, safety
TACKLES — Clubb 9, Cole Reighard 9, sack, Wittrock 6, Millikin 5, Eric Adam 4, Tanner Adam 4, sack, Bond 4, John Hollingsworth 4, Allsup 3, Colton Lanman 3, sack, Long 3, fumble recovery, Jayden Nicholson 3, sack, C. Copeland, Joe Hagedon, Ryan Swanson.