This time, Hononegah offense comes up big in shootout IHSA playoff win

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

ROCKTON — A few Stuart Hale runs here, a couple of Isaac Whisenand passes there. That’s about all Hononegah needed on offense to go 9-0 in the NIC-10, thanks to a relentless defense and spectacular special teams.

That wasn’t going to be enough Saturday, not with Plainfield East star freshman quarterback Brandon Parades throwing for 322 yards.

But on a day when Hononegah’s defense finally looked vulnerable, Hale, Whisenand and Drake Emanuel all came up big on offense to help Hono pull away for a 53-29 victory in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.

“Our offense was outstanding,” coach Brian Zimmerman said. “We finally put it all together.”

Scoreboard:Where and when Rockford-area teams play in the IHSA football playoffs

No. 7 state-ranked Hononegah (10-0) will now play Pekin (8-2) next week at home in its bid to reach the third round of the state playoffs for the first time in 25 years.

“It’s going to be one of the biggest weeks ever. Our whole school will be there,” said Dylan Seymour, who had one of Hononegah’s four interceptions on defense.

Hononegah had scored a total of two offensive touchdowns in its three biggest wins, with zero against Boylan, one against Belvidere North and two against Harlem. Those games were won primarily with special teams and defense.

Not Saturday. Plainfield East (5-5) scored three TDs in the first 16 minutes and was tied with Hononegah 22-22.

Hononegah's Drake Emanuel turns a short slant pass into a 74-yard touchdown for Hononegah's first score in a 53-29 Class 7A football playoff win over Plainfield East.

Hale (227 yards and four TDs on 31 carries) then ran 65 yards on three straight carries to put Hononegah ahead for good, 29-22 — with 6:50 still left in the first half. His 24-yard run after an Emanuel interception made it 36-22. And Karsten Nordlie — who has blocked a number of kicks this year — made it 43-22 at the half by blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone.

“We haven’t been the best on offense, but we picked it up today when we needed it,” said Emanuel, who had 116 yards receiving, including a 74-yarder for Hononegah’s first touchdown.

Hononegah finished with 487 yards, including 342 rushing, despite playing its backups for most of the fourth quarter.

The numbers:Check out the regular-season stats for NIC-10 and all Rockford-area football

“I am so proud of our offense,” said Whisenand, who completed 10 of 22 passes for 145 yards. “We have tried to find ways to kick start it all year. I am very glad this was the game to do it.

“We have owed it to our defense this whole season. They have been the people to shine over us. But we can bail them out once in awhile.”

Thanks to nine tackles for loss by eight different players, Hononegah did smother Plainfield East’s run game, holding the Bengals to minus-9 yards rushing on 30 carries. Hononegah also forced five turnovers and would have shut out the Bengals for the last 2 ½ quarters if a late Hononegah fumble hadn’t given Plainfield East a chance to score in the final minute against Hononegah’s backups.

“We were getting a little confused on defense, but we figured it out in the second half,” Hononegah linebacker Dylan Sayles said.

Hononegah's Dylan Seymour tackles Plainfield East Micheal Moore at Hononegah High School on Saturday, October 30, 2021 in Rockton.

Sayles, Emanuel and Bryce Goodwine, who had nine kicking points, two tackles for loss, 28 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards, were all on Hononegah’s baseball team that lost to state champion Plainfield East in the state semifinals.

“We definitely had a chip on our shoulder from baseball,” Sayles said.

The entire offense also had a chip. This time, when Hononegah needed it most, they more than carried their weight.

“We have been waiting for them all year,” Seymour said. “They finally clicked. We really needed it, tonight of all nights.”

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge