Death, taxes and the Canton football team doesn’t throw the football.
Subtract one of those life certainties.
The Little Giants scrapped their tricky, deceptive single-wing offense for a wide-open passing attack Friday night against Pekin.
Jake Smith completed 22-of-39 passes — yes, 39 passes — for 262 yards, but host Pekin recovered after giving up an early touchdown pass and beat Canton 55-14 in a Mid-Illini Conference game played on a fall-like breezy, chilly night at Memorial Stadium.
“We got two first downs against Pekin last year with the single-wing and they’re very big and talented on defense, so we thought we’d try passing the ball,” said Canton coach Cody Myers. “We’re not changing our offensive philosophy. Our kids love the single-wing.”
“We prepared all week for the single-wing,” said Pekin coach Doug Nutter. “We needed to make some in-game adjustments, and we did that.”
Nutter said Pekin went to a “vanilla” defense because of the difficulty Canton had to have encountered installing a new offense in a week.
“We let them have the slant and hitch passes,” Nutter said. “The big question was could they keep it up for four quarters? Could they finish?”
The Dragons shut down Canton’s running game while they were dealing with the Little Giants’ surprise passing attack, allowing only 51 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
Canton (1-4, 0-3) burned the Dragons on a 79-yard touchdown pass from Smith to a wide open Chase Adams that opened the scoring with 8:54 left in the first quarter. A conversion pass from Smith to Caleb Miller made it 8-0.
“They got us on that touchdown pass,” Nutter said, smiling and shaking his head.
Pekin (2-3, 1-2) got Canton after that, thanks mainly to big plays.
After a 2-yard touchdown run by Brayden Cruz cut the Little Giants’ lead to 8-6, Pekin’s Dallas Haynes recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff after the Canton return man couldn’t grab the kick and Cruz scored again on 3-yard run to put the Dragons ahead for good.
Nathan Righi’s conversion pass to Brody Carroll made it 14-8.
An interception and 45-yard return by Haynes and a blocked punt by Pekin’s Gavin Reese set up two more Dragons touchdowns on a 39-yard pass from a scrambling Righi to Conner Rush and a 5-yard run by Devin Tovrea.
“We told Gavin (Reese) if he did a bull rush, he could get to their punter,” Nutter said.
Pekin went in front 35-8 at halftime on an 11-yard touchdown run by Tovrea after Canton failed to convert a fourth-down play at the Little Giants’ 37-yard line.
The game was halted for about 20 minutes with 9:57 to go in the second quarter after Canton senior wide receiver-defensive back Gabe Gossett hurt his neck when he was bent awkwardly on a Pekin running play, suffering a neck stinger and concussion.
Gossett was taken from the field in an ambulance. He was placed on a board with his neck immobilized and his helmet still on.
Canton’s T.J. Myers scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter, but Pekin pulled away and started a running clock thanks to a 51-yard touchdown run by Gabe Holtke, a 31-yard TD pass from Righi to Brody Dailey and a 17-yard scoring run by Nick Eads with 1:30 to go in the game.
Righi finished 9-of-16 through the air for 110 yards and two touchdowns and he also ran for 34 yards. Holtke (three carries, 71 yards), Eads (6-42) and Drake Hawkins (2-41) were the Dragons’ leading rushers.
“That’s a good Pekin football team. Doug (Nutter) and his staff do a great job coaching them,” Myers said. “Their record is very misleading. They’ve played a tough schedule.”
The three teams that have beaten Pekin — Sterling, Dunlap and Morton — were a combined 11-1 going into Friday’s games.
With three losses and undefeated Washington and Metamora still on their schedule, the Dragons have little margin for error if they want to make the state playoffs. They must finish at least 5-4.
“Our kids know what’s on the line,” Nutter said. “We’ve got to keep improving and play well in all three phases of the game like we did against Canton.”
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.