SULLY — In its first five games, the Lynnville-Sully football team hadn’t been put in a position to have to drive the length of the field offensively very often.
The Hawks took advantage of several short fields in the previous five weeks.
Pekin punter Ethan Cooksey pinned Lynnville-Sully deep in its own territory on back-to-back possessions, but the Hawks dug deep and flexed their muscles, which let the air out of the Panthers’ balloon early in the first half.
The Class A No. 9 Hawks capped a 94-yard drive with a 92-yard touchdown pass from senior Elijah Collins to senior Sage Zylstra. That gave L-S the lead for good, and the Hawks added a 98-yard scoring drive that Collins finished himself with a quarterback sneak.
It was the start of a big night for the Hawks, who defeated No. 6 Pekin, 35-7, on for homecoming during District 6 action.
“When I saw them at 4:30 for our normal meeting, they had this look in their eyes. It was crazy. I haven’t seen that look yet this season, but I knew they were ready to go,” L-S coach Mike Parkinson said. “They were so focused and locked in. Our guys rose up tonight.”
The game was knotted at 7-all after Pekin answered L-S’ first scoring drive with a 60-yard touchdown run by Monico Requena. Requena had a big night on the ground for the Panthers, but the Hawks’ defense didn’t allow another point and controlled the game the rest of the way after the two 90-plus yard scoring drives.
“We can’t let off the gas pedal in these kind of games,” junior linebacker Gage Vander Leest said. “Pekin is too good of a team to let up for one play. We killed their momentum early, and they didn’t get it back.
“It was key that we just kept at it.”
Vander Leest finished with seven tackles on the night. The Hawk defense bent quite a bit as Requena rushed for 167 yards on 23 carries. L-S didn’t break though, forcing six punts and three turnover on downs in the game.
After Pekin scored its only TD of the game early in the first quarter, the Panthers ended the half with three straight punts and then L-S blocked a field goal as time expired.
“We made an adjustment after the TD,” Parkinson said. “We felt like we were giving up something on the edge. I liked our plan coming in, but I tip my hat to coach Cunningham and the adjustment he made. The guys rallied behind it and picked it up on fly. We played shutout football after that. They got some yards, but we kept them off the scoreboard. That’s the hallmark of a good defense against a good team.”
Three different Lynnville-Sully ball carriers scored TDs in the game, and Collins threw for a season-high 187 yards and two scores.
The Hawks got great field position with a strong kickoff return to open the game. L-S drove 36 yards and converted three third down and longs in the process. The final third and long was a 14-yard TD pass from Collins to junior Tyson Vander Linden.
Requena got 60 of his 167 yards on one carry on Pekin’s first offensive possession. He took it to paydirt in a hurry to tie the game.
After L-S turned it over on downs, the defense forced one of its two three and outs in the first half.
The offense got the ball back but the drive started on their own 6-yard line. Senior Evan Squires gained two on first down and then an incomplete pass forced another third and long.
Parkinson sent Zylstra back into the game, and dialed his number for a big play. Zylstra got loose out of the backfield and sprinted to paydirt after taking Collins’ pass on the run.
“We had something that we schemed up in practice this week,” Parkinson said. “We thought we had the matchup on that particular play.”
L-S (6-0 overall, 4-0 in district play) started on its own 2-yard line on its next possession. This time, the Hawks needed more than three plays, but still reached the end zone.
The Hawks got a 15-yard run by Squires, a 49-yard run by Zylstra and then Collins hooked up with senior Drake Ehresman for 26 yards. Vander Linden was tackled just shy of the end zone on an 11-yard run, but Collins plunged over the goal line on the next play to put the home team up 20-7.
“We had some bad field position. But scoring on those two long drives gave us a lot of confidence for the rest of the game. It gave us a lot of momentum,” L-S linemen Jesse Van Wyk said. “I thought we wanted it a lot more than they did. It was a great win for us.”
The final TD drive of the first half came after the Hawk defense forced another three and out. L-S needed to go only 36 yards to go up 28-7. Junior Nate Stock gained 16 yards on third down to keep the drive chugging and eventually Squires scored on the seventh play of the drive from 2 yards out.
Stock finished the scoring in the second half with a 77-yard TD run. He took the pitch out to the left side, and made one move and was gone. He had a team-high 101 yards on six carries in the game.
“He is super explosive from that fullback position. When he makes a good cut, he has a chance to go,” Parkinson said. “We have to two tailbacks and two fullbacks that do most of the work back there, and they are OK with sharing the ball. They have embraced the role and are good with sharing. They are all buddies, and it’s not a me-me thing.”
L-S rushed for 236 yards and passed for 187 in the district win. Pekin tallied 250 yards on the ground but only threw for 48 yards despite attempting 22 passes.
“Pekin answered us right away after our first TD, and our guys took that to heart and kind of said ‘not here, not tonight,’” Parkinson said.
It was an impressive performance by the Hawks, who had to deal with the extra distraction that is homecoming, too.
“It was hard. There was a lot of distractions. We were tired. There is so much going on. But at the end of the week, we knew what we had to do,” said Vander Leest, who blocked the Pekin field goal attempt late in the second quarter. “We focused in right before the game. We came out swinging and never let up.”
Collins hooked up with Vander Linden three times for 56 yards, and Ehresman hauled in three passes for 39 yards. Zylstra rushed for 73 yards on eight carries.
Senior Carson Dunsbergen had a team-high nine tackles on defense. Squires joined Vander Leest with seven tackles, Vander Linden and senior Kemper Lukehart totaled six tackles and Zylstra and Van Wyk each had five tackles. Junior Grant Wehrle had the team’s only sack.
That was a statement game for us. We might have just put a giant target on our back, too, but It is what it is,” Parkinson said. “We were able to execute. They have good athletes, and I don’t think the score indicates how good of a football team they are. We just really executed and made some big plays.
“I am proud of them. They played their hearts out and got a big win. We have to reload though. We have another big one next week.”
The big game next week kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at New London, which comes into the game 5-0 overall and 3-0 in district play.
L-S -- Tyson Vander Linden 14 pass from Elijah Colins (Brevin Hansen kick)
Pekin -- Monico Requena 60 run (Levi Rohr kick)
L-S -- Sage Zylstra 92 pass from Collins (missed kick)
L-S -- Collins 1 run (Hansen kick)
L-S -- Squires 2 run (Squires run)
L-S -- Nate Stock 77 run (Hansen kick)