By Jake Fogal
NORMAL – The 2nd round of the IHSA football playoff’s delivered a classic between two Central Illinois teams that came down to the wire. As cheers roared from the stands at Dick Tharp field, Ironmen fans were on their feet anticipating a victory, before things took a drastic turn late in the fourth quarter. As time dwindled down, the Pekin Dragons managed to drain the clock on their final drive, eventually finding a touchdown to send Normal Community home 32-31.
Community jumped out to a 14 point lead in the first quarter behind a staggering defense that forced a turnover that was returned for six points. Chris Taylor added to the fun, putting the ball into the end zone at the 7:25 mark in the quarter.
The Pekin Dragons, coming in at 10-0 on the year and #3 in Class 7A, likely hasn’t been tested this early into a game, and responded in the following quarter. One touchdown through the air, caught by Bo Benassi, and another on the ground from Kayne Tyler. The Dragons could not capitalize on their extra point tries, trailing by two following the two scores. Both teams found pay dirt once again late in the second quarter, as the Ironmen charged forward with running back Tommy Davis for a score, and Pekin quarterback Scott Jordan converted on a one-yard sneak.
With the score separated by three points entering the second half, 21-18, Community came out of the locker room running as Tommy Davis turned on the jets for a 60 yard score to start the third quarter. The Ironmen added a 31-yard field goal to their lead, up 31-18 mid-way through the quarter.
Pekin added a touchdown to the scoreboard as senior Tanner Sprecher reached the end zone on a 20 yard carry to pull the visiting team to within six.
Normal Community had an opportunity to go up two possessions on the first play of the final quarter, sitting on Pekin’s one-yard line on fourth down. The Ironmen rolled the dice and could not convert on the touchdown try, keeping the door open for Pekin to capture the lead for the first time in the contest.
The Dragons did just that, burning time throughout the fourth quarter, and converting on a four yard run to go up 32-31 with 30 seconds remaining in the game.
After starting the season 1-3 through four weeks, the Ironmen finish the year 7-4 overall, winning six straight ahead of this game to make the postseason.
Round two games to be played on Saturday:
(Class 6A) No. 3 Normal West vs. No. 6 East St. Louis 1:00 p.m.
(Class 2A) No. 12 Central Catholic vs. No. 4 Rockridge 1:00 p.m.
(Class 3A) No. 1 Prairie Central at No. 9 Roxana 2:00 p.m.
(Class 1A) No. 1 Ridgeview-Lexington at No. 9 Salt Fork 2:00 p.m.
(Class 3A) No. 6 Eureka at No. 3 Williamsville 3:00 p.m.
(Class 2A) No. 6 Tri-Valley at No. 3 Wilmington 6:00 p.m.
(Class 3A) No. 15 Olympia vs. No. 7 St. Joseph-Ogden 6:00 p.m.
The High School Football Extravaganza is sponsored by CEFCU. Not a bank, better.
Jake Fogal can be reached at Jacob.Fogal@Cumulus.com.