'It launched our era': Pat Ryan picks his top moments of the Metamora-Washington rivalry

Dave Eminian
Journal Star
Metamora football coach Pat Ryan retired in January 2020 after a 30-year career leading one of the Peoria area's most decorated high school football programs.

METAMORA — Pat Ryan had a personal game plan for Metamora's football showdown with Washington on Friday.

"I don't think I'll be there," the legendary former Metamora head coach said. "At least not this first game, I don't think I should be there.

"I hope I would be welcome. But I can't, partly because the attention should be on Coach (Jared) Grebner and the team, not on me, and partly because it would just be too hard to be there for that game and not want to be on that sideline."

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Ryan retired before the 2020-21 season, turning the reigns over to former Redbirds player and longtime assistant coach Jared Grebner. On Thursday, Ryan talked about the storied Metamora-Washington rivalry, the opponent he felt challenged by, his best memories from the series, and more.

Grebner delivers

Grebner's first shot at the helm in this rivalry game Friday delivered a 21-14 upset win for Metamora at Malone Field, a terrific end to a season played in the spring for the first time because of the pandemic and limited by COVID-forced stoppages. 

"I'm so proud of all those guys, those coaches," said Ryan, who was recently hired by the University of Illinois football program as director of Illinois high school relations. "Really all the coaches in the area, what they've gone through for these kids so they can play, it's just unbelievable.

"For the seniors Friday night, it's emotional. Two teams who are both well-backed by their communities. Kids who have grown up wanting to play for those teams, and play in this game.

"I don't have a lot of advice to give Jared. He doesn't need it, he's been through it as a player, and he's coached for years in this game. Many times."

Coaching vs. Washington

Ryan went 26-10 against Washington during his career. That included a 5-1 mark in playoffs, according to IHSA records. At one point, Metamora beat Washington 20 consecutive times in the rivalry series. 

Washington head coach Darrell Crouch came with the Panthers in 2005-06 and made the series much more competitive, his record in it now 7-12 after Friday's game.

"My secret? I coached this game as if it was any other week," Ryan said. "I never felt there had to be things done to fire up the team. If you have to get fired up to play Washington, then there is something wrong."

Memories of a rivalry

That guy on the other sideline: "Coaching against a Hall of Fame guy in John Venturi. I've faced a lot of coaches, and Darrell Crouch is among the good ones. But as a young guy starting out, I had to start my time in this rivalry game against Venturi and that great coaching staff he had. He was the coaching standard. And facing him was daunting."

Making his mark: "The 1994 playoff game (a 16-14 win over Washington), we hadn't won a playoff game in years. It was a monumental game, just a huge moment for us and I'll never forget it. It launched our era." 

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The crowds: "Standing on the sideline in a Washington-Metamora game it felt like there were a million people in that grandstand. It will feel odd Friday with the COVID limits on attendance. But this game is great for the kids because they get to play in front of a huge crowd."

The games: There was the game in 1995 at Metamora, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of over 4,000, in which Washington kicker Matt Chaney's 42-yard field goal attempt hit the bottom of the right upright and stayed out with 46 seconds left. The Redbirds escaped with a 23-20 win.

There was the 2009 season for Metamora, in which it went 13-1 on the way to a state title. The lone loss? A 28-7 upset by Washington.

Biggest rivalry

Lots of players, lots of moments for both sides. The casts have changed, Jared Grebner is at center stage for Metamora now.

"I'll probably watch the game on livestream," Ryan said. "I won't have the stomachache I always had on the sideline for this game. Well, I'll still have one, but it'll be for a different reason, rooting as a fan. 

"I think this is the biggest rivalry game in central Illinois. It will be a celebration of that rivalry and of just being able to play football."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.