Pekin defends home turf against New London

Monico Requena dives for the end zone in his second score of the game. He rushed for 250 yards and scored all 14 of Pekin’s points in a narrow win over New London.

The Pekin Panthers got a playoff-clinching win by beating New London 14-8 on October 13. Coming into the game, both teams only had one loss in district play. The winner would finish in second place, and secure a spot in the postseason. In a scrappy game, the Panthers did just enough to secure that spot.

Pekin moved down the field quickly in their first possession of the game, building off the surrounding energy coming from the home crowd. Once they entered the red zone, the Panthers coughed the ball up, giving New London an early chance to strike. The defense held their ground, not allowing New London to get their offense clicking.

Another drive by the Panthers also stalled out as another fumble of the ball kept things scoreless. Neither team managed to break away, until Pekin finally struck with a 30-yard run by Monico Requena. The powerful back for Pekin was held quiet for much of the first half, minus the scoring drive. At half, the score was 7-0 in favor of the home team.

The second half was a different story, with Requena exploiting some early gaps and tearing off big chunks of yards. Most of those yards came when he found space between the defensive ends and the sideline. Those plays opened up more running between the tackles as the game progressed. Requena found the end zone again early in the third quarter, increasing the Pekin lead to 14 points.

"We made a few blocking scheme adjustments we thought could help us," Panther coach Bud Blakely said. "I preached to the kids that four-yards is a great play. The kids bought into that and that was pretty big for our offense tonight."

New London responded in a quick way, scoring a few plays later to get within one score. After giving up a long quarterback rush and a couple passing plays, the Pekin defense began to push back. On a fourth down play, New London was able to sneak into the end zone, connecting on a short pass.

From there, both teams' defenses took over. Requena kept rattling off yards when needed, but didn't explode down the field. The ball changed hands a number of times, but neither side could cash in.

The Panthers ended the game in the red zone, taking two kneels in the victory formation, running out the clock. As the time hit zero, the celebration began as the players congratulated each other emphatically before lining up to shake hands with the opponent.

Requena not only scored the only Pekin points, he also put up 250 yards on 41 touches, averaging six yards per run. Other than the one scoring drive for New London, the Panther defense played shutout quality football, allowing under 100 total yards.

"New London is an extremely difficult team to prepare for, they can hurt you in so many different ways," Blakely said. "It's asking a lot asking our kids to cover them all. They do so much and played hard tonight."

Connor Reed and Drake Harbison each had 5.5 tackles in the game, eight solo tackles in total. Skyler Juhl ended up with four tackles, two going for a loss of yards. Zach Hammes recovered the lone turnover by New London, a fumble, and also had three solo tackles.

Pekin now has a bye week, as a majority of the state wraps up their season this week. They aren’t sure where or who they will play next, but they'll be locked in when the time comes.

"For us it's getting healthy, playing a team like this should help us," Blakely said. "I don't know where we'll be, but we got in."