'The heck with the streak': Dramatic win puts Hononegah football in state quarterfinals

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

ROCKTON — Pekin had negative yardage on its first four possessions and trailed by three scores.

And then junior quarterback Scotty Jordan began winging it.

“We didn’t expect that,” Hononegah linebacker Dylan Sayles said. “They are an 80-percent run team. We thought they were going to try to run it down our throat. We didn’t expect that, and they got us a little bit.”

“We practice passing all the time,” Jordan said. “We don’t just practice runs. I am ready to flip the switch whenever we have to.”

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Jordan set a career high in passing yards and passed Pekin into the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Seventh-ranked Hononegah then flipped the switch back itself and rallied to win 31-28 Saturday in the second round of the Class 7A football playoffs.

The win sends Hononegah (11-0) to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, snapping an 0-for-9 streak in the second round. Hono travels to face Chicago St. Rita (9-2) at 3 p.m. next Saturday.

Coach Brian Zimmerman gleefully shouted “to heck with the streak” to his team after the game.

“It’s amazing,” said linebacker Dylan Seymour, who had the last of Hononegah’s nine tackles for a loss. “I can’t wait to go on to round three. Everyone is stoked out of their minds. I had tears coming out of my eyes after this game. Definitely one of the greatest feelings ever.”

Hononegah's Stuart Hale runs against Pekin at Hononegah High School on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Rockton.

Jordan completed 10 of 21 passes for 211 yards, including a 62-yarder to Levi Burke to cut an early Hononegah lead to 17-7 and a 91-yarder to Kanye Taylor to put the Dragons ahead for the first time, 28-24.

Hononegah had gained a total of three first downs on its last five drives when it got the ball back down by four points. Hononegah then drove 71 yards on 10 plays — nine of them runs after having its run game shut down most of the afternoon — to take a 31-28 lead.

Seymour then ended Pekin’s next drive with a sack on fourth-and-7 and Hononegah ran out the clock by churning out a pair of first downs.

“That was riding on everything,” Seymour said of his sack. “We knew they were going to pass. We had to bring pressure and we did.”

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“They brought more people than we had blocking,” Jordan said. “There was nothing we could do about that.”

Hononegah has now won 11 games for only the second time in school history, second only to its 12-1 state semifinal team in 1996. The 1985 team that finished second in Class 4A was 10-4.

Pekin (8-3), like Hononegah, hasn’t played a third-round game in a long time. The Dragons have now lost in the first or second round 17 times in a row since 1988.

Hononegah's Isaac Whisenand throws the ball against Pekin at Hononegah High School on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Rockton.

Sayles stepped into the passing lane on a screen pass and scored on a 20-yard pick-6 to give Hononegah a 7-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game for his fifth career pick-6.

“They just come to me,” Sayles said. “I see the open field and I score.”

That was Hononegah’s 20th interception of the season, but the only turnover it forced the whole game.

A strip sack by Brigham Molander almost gave Hononegah a second defensive touchdown in the first half, but Pekin recovered at the 2 for a 20-yard loss. Still, Hononegah held Pekin to minus-4 yards on its first 20 plays except for a blown coverage on a 62-yard TD pass where Burke was open by 30 yards on third-and-6. That was Pekin’s only first down on its first seven drives.

Hononegah’s offense, though, started slow also. Hono had only 12 yards on its first three drives, but still led 10-0 thanks to Sayles’ pick-6 and a Bryce Givens 30-yard field goal.

Hononegah then ripped off a series of big plays. A 17-yard QB keeper by Isaac Whisenand and Whisenand’s 34-yard pass to Chase Kemmet made it 17-0 on a two-play drive.

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“They were concentrating on Bryce (Goodwine) and Drake (Emanuel), our great receivers,” Kemmet said. “That helped our passing game get into the flow. It felt good to contribute.”

Hononegah also answered Jordan’s 62-yard pass to Burke with an 88-yard drive highlighted by a 45-yard Stuart Hale run and a 24-yard TD pass to Hale to make it 24-7.

Two possessions later, Pekin mounted the only sustained drive of the first half, going 51 yards in nine plays to cut the deficit to 24-14 on a 1-yard Jordan sneak in the final minute of the half.

Hononegah's Brigham Molander sacks and forces a fumble on Pekin's Scotty Jordan at Hononegah High School on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Rockton.

But Hale (129 yards on 25 carries) didn’t do much except for those two big plays. Until the game was on the line. He ran seven times for 43 yards, including the 4-yard touchdown run, on the winning drive. Hale also ran five times for 20 yards, including a fourth-and-4 conversion, as Hononegah ran out the clock with two first downs after Seymour’s sack with a little over three minutes to play.

“We have been ahead of the sticks all year,” coach Zimmerman said of rarely trailing. “That was a little nerve-wracking to fall behind. But the defense stiffened when they needed to and the offense got the touchdown that we needed.”

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge