The Pekin football team had a great start and a good finish to its home opener Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
The rest of the game belonged to state-ranked Sterling.
The Golden Warriors beat the Dragons 49-14 behind five touchdowns by Marquez Williams, defeating Pekin for the third straight year with a running clock and winning their 20th straight regular-season game.
Williams, a 6-0, 200-pound senior running back and linebacker, scored on three runs, a pass and an interception return as he tied a school record for touchdowns in a game.
Sterling (2-0, No. 6 in Class 5A) rolled up 562 yards in total offense including 388 on the ground against Pekin, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.
Quarterback Cooper Willman had four rushes for 134 yards and a touchdown and Williams ran nine times for 101 yards.
“Don’t get me wrong. Their backs ran hard,” said Pekin coach Doug Nutter. “But we tackled very poorly. We were doing a lot of arm tackling, which we didn’t do (in a 30-7 season-opening win over Oak Forest). We’re going to work on our tackling in practice.”
There was a silver living for the Dragons in the lopsided loss.
“I like the way our guys handled the defeat. They did it the right way,” Nutter said. “Nobody was blaming anyone. We kept our family atmosphere.”
Pekin (1-1) took the opening kickoff from Sterling on a warm, muggy night and drove 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown, scoring on a 3-yard run by quarterback Nathan Righi with 8:49 left in the first quarter.
“Give Pekin credit. They got on our guys and made plays on that first drive,” said Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer. “We made some adjustments and stopped them after that.”
Two of the biggest plays in Pekin’s opening drive were a 17-yard pass from Righi to Conner Rush and a 27-yard run by Brayden Cruz.
Sterling responded with a seven-play, 83-yard march that ended with a 14-yard touchdown run by Williams.
Then the floodgates opened. Sterling led 28-7 by the end of the first quarter.
Willman shook off several tacklers while running 75 yards for a score up the Pekin sideline and he threw a 65-yard screen pass to Williams that resulted in a touchdown.
The first-quarter flurry ended when Willman hit Weston Sisson in stride on a slant and Sisson ran 66 yards into the end zone.
A 34-yard run by Williams with 35.4 seconds in the first half made it 35-7 then Williams scored from 28 yards out on Sterling’s first possession of the second half.
Williams stepped in front of a pass by Righi and ran 57 yards for a touchdown with 8:11 to go in the third quarter, putting Sterling ahead 49-7. The 40-point lead in the second half started the running clock rule.
Pekin’s good finish was provided by Gabe Holtke, who ran 73 yards for a touchdown with 3:57 left in the game.
The Dragons had 313 yards in total offense, 271 on the ground.
Righi was just 4-of-17 through the air for 42 yards, but he ran for 58 yards on 13 carries. Holtke (three carries, 83 yards), Cruz (14 carries, 63 yards) and Nick Eads (four carries, 42 yards) added to Pekin’s rushing total.
Pekin’s Sebastian Hill, who caught four touchdown passes in Week 1 against Oak Forest, didn’t catch a pass against Sterling.
“We keyed on Hill,” Schlemmer said. “Negil Bruce did a great job covering him. Negil was our leading rusher in our season opener (a 46-8 win over Marengo), but we needed him on defense against Pekin.”
Nutter said Sterling double-teamed Hill, and he expects other opponents will do that.
“We need to get Sebastian open, and our other receivers need to take advantage of one-on-one matchups when he’s being double-teamed,” Nutter said.
Pekin opens Mid-Illini Conference play this week at Dunlap (2-0), which lost in the Class 5A state championship game last year. Sterling lost in the Class 5A semifinals last year to eventual state champion Chicago Phillips.
“We’ve got to respond,” Nutter said. “The Mid-Illini grind starts (this week.).”
The grind will be an especially tough challenge for Pekin defensive tackle Gavin Reese, who broke his hand in practice last week and played sparingly against Sterling with a padded cast.
“Gavin is going to have to adopt and adjust,” Nutter said.
Kai Benson filled in for Reese against Sterling.
Steve Stein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.