Prep football: Panthers power past Comets after sloppy start

Aug. 28—ELDON — Sometimes, you can tell a lot about a team from the first play of the season.

The only thing the first snap of the season proved on Friday is that the Pekin football team got its worst plays out of the way early at Cardinal.

"Let's just get those gone," Pekin junior Will Adam joked. "We don't want those anymore."

Despite giving up a safety on a bad snap on their first offensive play of the season, Pekin made several more positive things happen on their next 55 snaps against the Comets. Adam, in his first game as Pekin's starting quarterback, completed nine of 15 pass attempts for 149 yards while gaining 48 yards on 11 carries including a pair of one-yard touchdown runs in a 20-2 season-opening victory.

"It was a rough start, but we pulled through," Adam said. "We put one or two runs together and we realized we could do this. We put in that hard work this summer where we realized that, when we get stuff clicking, we can do it. It all came together."

Both teams struggled to hold on to the football in the early minutes of the season. Henry Adam was able to prevent Cardinal from scoring a defensive touchdown, running down the bad snap that drifted back from the 15-yard-line all the way into the end zone before begin brought down by Cardinal senior Jesse Hughes who finished the night with a safety, four total tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

"That was a great feeling right there," Hughes said of his season-opening safety. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what kind of night I have individually if we don't get the win."

Hughes recovered his first fumble on Pekin's second offensive play of the game one play after Henry Adam picked off a pass from Isaac Lett. The Panther defense, however, stopped the Comets and got the ball back on their 41-yard-line late in the first quarter.

Will Adam then took matters into his own hands, making a run into Cardinal territory to get the Panther offense headed in the right direction with gains of 20 yards, 11 yards and 16 yards on the drive. The drive would ultimately end with a one-yard dash into the corner of the end zone on fourth down for Adam 43 seconds into the second quarter, giving Pekin a 6-2 lead.

"We've got a lot of juniors playing right now that started as freshmen," Pekin head football coach Klynt Weber said. "The mindset of our kids are different right now. They don't walk in with a swagger, but there's a confidence now in their ability. We've done enough over the summer, preseason camp and last week's preseason scrimmage that we knew we could come in and get this win if we played well."

The drive would not only give Pekin the lead, it would prove even more costly for Cardinal for the rest of the game. While making a tackle late in the first quarter, Lett injured his knee taking the Comet senior out of the game forcing head coach Rich Mayson to turn to Alec Rachford, Craig Miller and Zach Luedtke to take snaps from center throughout the rest of the game.

"When Isaac went down, it really shot us down," Hughes said. "We shouldn't have let it affect us that much, but the guy is such a big part of our offense. We only have young guys. The starting line-up is 10 seniors and one junior, but the rest of the team are freshman and sophomores."

As a team, Cardinal managed just 36 yards on 21 plays in the first half picking up just one first down in the first 24 minutes. Pekin, meanwhile, took advantage of a roughing-the-passer penalty and a 36-yard pass from Will Adam to Robert Brown on third down to set up Adam's second one-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown giving Pekin a 12-2 halftime lead.

"It was a pretty muggy night, so for me it was a matter of keeping my hands dry from all the sweat I had to handle the football," Adam said. "I'm used to catching those balls (at wide receiver). Taking snaps for the first time took some getting used to, but it helps to lead the team. I love having all these guys that I can hand the ball off to or throw the ball to."

One of those teammates was Sven Dahlstrom, who had to shake off the early fumble that was recovered by Hughes. Dahlstrom finished a productive night catching six passes from Adam for 71 yards while also leading the Panthers on the ground gaining 74 yards on 13 carries including a game-clinching five-yard touchdown run with 7:06 left.

"There's always that next play to make," Dahlstrom said. "I've got my line blocking for me. The spaces were there. Everything worked great."

Pekin finished a balanced night gaining 143 yards rushing and 149 yards passing, a far cry from the last trip for the Panthers to Cardinal. Two years ago, the Comets rolled to a 70-19 win over Pekin, sending the Panthers to a winless first season under the guidance of Weber.

"A lot of our kids on this team were on that team two years ago. They were talking about that game before this one in the locker room," Weber said. "There is a hungry edge for these guys coming into this. We also haven't won in these white road jerseys since I got here, so it's fitting to get that first road back at the place we suffered that loss two years ago."

Pekin (1-0) heads to Keosauqua on Friday to face Van Buren County (0-1) while Cardinal (0-1) heads to Donnellson to face Central Lee. Central Lee opened the season winning 35-8 at Van Buren County rushing for 362 yards on 50 carries in the contest.

"Van Buren is a program on the rise in football. I don't care what anyone says," Weber said. "They've really improved. I know some people have overlooked them. I know they've lost some seniors from last year. They're still a quality program. Our kids are going to have to be on their A-game. We're going to have to play a lot sharper if we're going to come out of there with a win."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.