Dunlap's defense held Pekin out of the end zone in three critical possessions.
DUNLAP — Dunlap’s defense has become a staple over the past two seasons and it came up big again, holding Pekin to six points off two turnovers with an average start position of the Dunlap 20.
One of those turnovers was a fumbled kickoff by junior Isaiah Curry, who’s sack of Nathan Righi on the final possession put Pekin in fourth-and-long late in Dunlap’s 17-12 Mid-Illini win.
“Beginning it, I was really mad because early in the game I dropped that return so I was kind of already mad at the beginning, so I go through see (the gap’s) open and just try my hardest because I missed it earlier, I could have had a wide-open sack, it felt beautiful because I think it was third down and I knew it was a big moment for the team because there was a little bit of time left and they were trying to throw it deep and get it into the end zone,” Curry said. “It just was amazing.”
Sebastian Hill finished with four catches for 68 yards but Pekin (1-2, 0-1) didn’t get him the ball until late in the third quarter thanks to its rushing success.
“We were able to run the ball, so that’s why we waited until later,” Pekin coach Doug Nutter said. “We pounded the rock until we had those self-inflicted wounds on ourselves where we had flags and miscues. Those types of things.”
Righi ran the ball 23 times for 33 yards, but take away the four fumbles he covered up and two sacks, he ran for 79 yards. He also completed 9 of 18 passes for 123 yards and kicked two field goals.
“He ran the ball hard, and that was part of the game plan that he was going to run the ball more and he ran the ball hard and made some good reads on some of our option stuff as well,” Nutter said.
Dunlap (3-0, 1-0) quarterback Myles Burke matched Righi, completing 13 of 22 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran six times for four yards, including losing 15 on a fumbled snap.
"Myles was gritty there at the end running the ball, got some tough yards when we needed it and he completed some big balls,” Dunlap coach Brett Cazalet said. “That drive before to end the third quarter, he just completed some big balls on the move to Andrew and, that was the difference. The difference was we were able to get in the end zone and our defense was able to hold them out of the end zone.”
Josiah Miamen was on the receiving end of the third-quarter touchdown, a 6-yard completion that ended up being the difference. It was the final of Miamen’s three catches for 35 yards. He had not practiced for two weeks dealing with a left knee injury but wearing a brace on Friday looked full strength.
“He got better as the game went on, but there’s no doubt it showed in the first half that he hadn’t been practicing,” Cazalet said. “Now he’s gotten through this and he seems pretty healthy and we have a week of practice next week and he’ll be ready to go.”
But Miamen dropped a key 4th-and-five pass that would have sealed a first down and allowed Dunlap to run out the clock. Then defense stepped up with Curry’s sack and hold on fourth down.
“Well, we just kind of have to do what we did last year at that game,” Burke said. “We just got to keep doing what we did last year, I know we lost a few guys but it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve still got to execute and just get the job done.”
With Washington’s win over Limestone, it sets up a meeting next week between top-ranked Washington (3-0, 1-0) and second-ranked Dunlap (3-0, 1-0).
Said Cazalet: “It sounds funny, but it’s a Mid-Illini Week 4 game, is what it is. We know all the kids Washington has back and their; sometimes the rankings, you roll your eyes at them but they’re deserving as the number one team in the state. Their senior class has thumped everybody since they were little kids. Our kids are competitors and we’ll have a good week of practice and we’ll be ready. It’s no more important than any other Mid-Illini game. In this league, you can never ever look ahead. We’ll worry about Washington tomorrow night when we start watching film.”