Panthers endure elements, lose heartbreaker second week in row

Pekin lost their second heartbreaker in as many weeks when they took on the BGM Bears in the elements but came up short 12-28.

Football games tend to last two and a half, maybe three hours tops depending on pace of play and stoppages, but that wasn’t the case on a stormy night October 6 when Pekin and BGM met up. Thanks to a lightning delay that lasted over two hours, the game lasted five hours and ended with another heartbreaking 13-28 loss for Pekin, their second close loss in as many weeks.

Pekin got things rolling early however, putting together a long drive on their first possession which ate up over half the time in the first quarter. The Panthers were looking to punch the ball into the end zone with their run game, but the drive halted momentarily with a penalty on the BGM defense, followed by a penalty on the Pekin offense. Caleb Comstock finished it out with a dart to Tanner Bainbridge, who shook off a defender and walked into the end zone. The Panthers tacked on the PAT to go up 7-0 with 5:13 left in the quarter as the rain began to become more of a factor.

“It was big for us to get that first score,” Pekin coach Bud Blakely said. “I don’t think anyone has driven the ball down the field on them like that all year.”

The defense fed off the early energy and forced one of their few three and outs, resulting in a punt by the Bears. Pekin was looking to tack on another huge score with their offense, but this time came up empty as the BGM defense held the Pekin rushing attack to minimal yards. A low snap on the punt attempt led to an unfortunate call for the Panthers as his knee brushed the field, downing the play before he got the punt off.

“You can’t kneel on a punt and we can’t catch a break. I feel bad for our seniors because they play hard, practice hard and show up to work every day,” Blakely said. “We just have to do some things better to get a break going our way.”

BGM was about to start their drive at the 13-yard line but one of the officials, along with many on and around the field, spotted some lightning in the distance. Both teams were sent into their sheltered areas while the fans were encouraged to leave the stands due to them being metal and anyone who chose to stay “had been warned”. By protocol, every time lightning was seen another thirty minutes would be added on the clock before the teams could come out on the field to warmup again. After nearly two hours the teams were given the all clear, just before more lightning was seen to send them back in.

An estimated two hours and thirty minutes elapsed until the teams finally made their way back onto the field to applause from both fan bases. They were given a seven minute window to warm up before BGM resumed their drive inside the red zone, hoping to tie things up. The Pekin defense forced a fumble but BGM recovered to keep their chances alive, which they took full advantage of by getting a first down on the next play. The quarter ran out before the Bears could run another play with Pekin holding the early 7-0 advantage.

That lead wouldn’t last much longer despite the defense holding strong through three running plays. Scott Tibbett’s found an open receiver and the two hooked up on a short pass, followed by a successful PAT to tie the game at seven apiece. From there, the momentum would stay on the home side with BGM forcing a three and out and giving the ball back to their offense. The Bears added on another score with another pass from Tibbett’s to give them the 14-7 lead with just over five minutes to go in the half.

Pekin managed to get nine of the 10 yards needed on three plays then decided to go for it on 4th and 1. What could’ve been a huge play for the Pekin offense ended up with Comstock being tackled for a one-yard loss on the QB keeper. It looked like the Bears would get another score before the half, with plenty of time and only half the field to work with. They started their drive with a big run play with an additional handful of yards from a facemask on the Pekin defense. The Panthers got a big stop as Kennan Winn picked off a pressured Tibbetts, getting a good run back after the interception and brought down by Tibbetts, the last line of defense for the Bears.

“Our defense has played well all year. BGM does a good job of challenging defenses and we knew we’d be challenged in certain areas, but we did well,” Blakely said. “We over-pursued a lot, but we made plays when we had to.”

The Panthers didn’t do themselves any favors after the big turnover, coughing the ball back up to BGM. The Bears were on the move again and nearly got into the endzone but came up short with a fumble on the three yard line, recovered by Bainbridge. Pekin stuck to the run game, trying to run out the clock and beat the blitzing Bears in the process. A three and out led to a punting situation for the Panthers and an opportunity for BGM to get a block. The front line held their ground and Comstock kicked a booming punt to flip the field, resulting in a BGM kneel to go into the half.

Due to the earlier delay, halftime was shortened five minutes with an effort to complete the game before more potential hazardous weather struck. The second half began with Pekin kicking off to BGM, who ended up with decent field position on their kick return. The Bears were unable to do anything with the possession and opted to punt. The Panthers started their drive at the three-yard line after a punt that hit the turf and spun dead at the spot.

Due to their field position, getting a first down was crucial for the Panthers, otherwise BGM would get positive starting field position with the momentum behind them. On 3rd and 11, a hole opened, Bainbridge found it and kept charging forward, picking up the first down and a handful more yards. The Panthers missed an opportunity as Comstock found an open Winn, who broke past the defender and sprinted in for a score, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. The following play, the Bears got into the backfield and sacked Comstock for a loss of yards, leading to a punt.

BGM was still up the one score as the third quarter concluded but they were on the move in the red zone once again. Another big stop led to a field goal opportunity for BGM, but a botched snap ended up in a turnover as the defense came away with an interception along the sideline. A quick three and out led to another punt for Pekin, and BGM starting on the Panther’s side of the 50 once again. A couple costly penalties and a near lost fumble on the snap pushed back BGM to 3rd and 24. A long pass play got the ball within a yard and the Bears moved the sticks with a short run for the first down.

“Our front three do a good job of causing problems in the backfield and we have talented linebackers that fielded the ball well and made plays, that’s a design of our defense to open up holes for our linebackers,” Blakely said. “What got us in trouble was over-pursuing. We were there and did what we wanted to but weren’t disciplined enough.”

Tibbetts called his own number with a QB sneak to get into the endzone, putting BGM up two scores after the PAT. A big kickoff set the Panthers back to their 13-yard line, with a lot of field ahead of them and time becoming a factor, they needed to string together some positive plays. They got a jump-start from Zach Hammes as he rumbled down the field for a 57-yard gain, moving the ball down to the 20-yard line. With the defense on their heels and some exhaustion showing, BGM called a timeout to regroup. The next play, Comstock tossed up a ball which Winn managed to go up and get, barely reaching over the defender and coming down to the ground for a score. An offsides penalty moved the ball half the distance and led Pekin to go for a two-point conversion, coming up inches short and making the score 13-21.

“It was a chess match all night, they know what we do well,” Blakely said. “It was tough to move away from what went right that first drive and we came close several times but would end up shooting ourselves in the foot too many times. Until we clean that one thing up, we’re going to struggle.”

With just over half the quarter left and two timeouts in their pocket, Pekin needed just one more stop to give themselves a chance to tie and send the game into extra time. That wasn’t meant to be as BGM found some holes in the Pekin line and continued to move the ball down the field, killing most of the time along the way. The Bears ended the drive with a score as the secondary running back, who’d done most of the damage all night, dragged some defenders along with him and stretched into the endzone. The touchdown pushed BGM up 28-13 with 31 second left in the game.

The Panthers had one more opportunity to put together a drive and made it all the way to midfield, thanks to a completed pass by Comstock. The next pass attempt went off the receiver’s hands and fell incomplete, leaving six seconds left on the clock. BGM’s pass rush hit home on the final play of the game as two defenders brought down Comstock in the backfield before he could get a pass off. Fittingly, the rain picked up again and just minutes after the teams huddled up more lightning struck in the distance, but this time it had no effect with the game having concluded.

“This may very well be the toughest team I’ve coached in my three years, but you have to be mistake free for four quarters against good teams,” Blakely said. “Our seniors deserve to go out with a bang. We’ll keep working and improving, that’s what we do.”

With the loss it pushed Pekin back one step with a 1-2 record in District play and two tough games left to go. The Panthers are back on the road on October 12 when they face Belle Plaine followed by a difficult test when they host Durant to close out the season on October 19.