WASHINGTON — Once Dunlap got the lead, its stingy defense never wavered Saturday in a Class 5A state semifinal football game.
The Eagles (13-0) became the fourth Mid-Illini Conference program to advance to a state championship game with a 21-0 victory over fellow M-I program Washington.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Dunlap quarterback Myles Burke said. “Our defense is phenomenal, probably the best in the state.”
Dunlap next faces Chicago Phillips (13-0) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the 5A title game at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium.
In a semifinal with 20 mph wind gusts, field position proved important. Dunlap went against the wind in the first quarter, but moved the ball and flipped the field despite punting on its first position. Coach Brett Cazalet felt that set the tone for the Eagles.
After starting its second drive on its own 20, Dunlap used a pair of big plays to get on the board. Luke Bennyhoff’s 26-yard run set up a 46-yard touchdown pass from Burke to Isaac Guyton, but it almost resulted as a turnover.
“Then the second drive, credit to their kid (because) they had us scouted,” said Cazalet. “The kid jumped the route and Myles made a heck of a throw and then Isaac made a heck of a catch to take it, but they had us defended well.”
On the next possession, Washington (10-3) lined up to punt from its own 31. Joe Basso, the Panthers' placekicker but not starting punter, couldn’t handle the snap and fell on it at his own 8 for a turnover on downs.
“Our punter got hurt in pregame, which I’ve never had happen before,” said Washington coach Darrell Crouch. “Joe’s punted before, but it’s like, 'Hey you’re up now' (when) coming out of the tunnel.”
Bennyhoff punched in on the next play to give Dunlap a 14-0 lead with 7.6 left in the first quarter. It was Bennyhoff’s 32nd rushing touchdown of the season.
One of Washington’s keys to the game was not giving up explosive plays, but that’s exactly what propelled Dunlap to a three-score lead.
Burke found Charlie Mangieri on a shoot-and-go route for a 62-yard gain. Several plays later, Burke found Josiah Miamen on a back-shoulder throw that Miamen grabbed for a 16-yard touchdown.
“(The linebacker) bites up pretty fast on shoots," Mangieri said, "so we called a shoot-and-go on him, and that’s what happened; just popped it out."
Said Crouch: “That special teams play and then (in) zero coverage, when we don’t run with our guy in zero coverage bad things happen."
Bennyhoff fumbled twice in the second half and both were recovered by the Panthers, the first of which stopped a scoring drive.
Washington then marched 91 yards and took 7:45 off the clock before turning the ball over on downs when Caleb Fisher got stuffed on a fourth-and-1 rush attempt.
“They don’t give you 15-yard chunks,” Crouch said. “They make you earn every part of that drive, using all three downs — and I think even twice we needed fourth down — so they’re pretty stingy on that.
"And just team speed-wise, it’s not like we have guys that will stretch the field against them and get behind them.”
Washington recovered Bennyhoff’s second fumble on the ensuing possession to set up first-and-goal from the 9. After two sacks and a screen pass, Fisher’s fourth-and-5 pass went over the hands of his receiver to keep Washington off the scoreboard.
“We’re going to the state championship game,” said Cazalet’s 4-year-old son, Vinny, after the game to his dad.
Aaron Ferguson can be reached at 686-3207 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sports_Aaron.