GIBSON CITY — The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School football team had pondered a possible rematch with El Paso-Gridley before the playoffs pairings were even announced.
"That was the topic a couple weeks ago. We thought we could match up," GCMS coach Mike Allen said. "It (a 22-20 overtime loss to EPG on Sept. 9) was a game we didn't think we played very well."
Provided the opportunity for redemption by the Class 2A playoff bracket, the Falcons jumped all over it while capturing a 35-7 opening round victory over their Heart of Illinois Conference rival Friday.
"We made some changes on offense and defense and got better every week," said GCMS tailback/defensive end Mitch McNutt, who rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. "We were pumped for this game. We thought we should have won the first time. We wanted it real bad."
The Falcons improved to 8-2 and will meet the winner of Saturday's game pitting No. 7-ranked Annawan-Wethersfield against Sciota West Prairie in the second round.
GCMS broke through after a scoreless first quarter when McNutt churned 58 yards over the left side of the Falcons' line for a 58-yard touchdown burst.
"It was kind of clogged up and (fullback) Jared (Trantina) just kept moving his feet and I followed him," McNutt said. "It just broke free."
EPG, which bowed out at 6-4, took possession near midfield with 1:29 remaining in the first half. But instead of the Titans cutting into the GCMS lead, Keegan Allen increased it.
The head coach's son stepped in front of an EPG receiver and sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown with the interception at the 1:17 mark of the second quarter.
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"We were in cover two. I read his (quarterback Jarrin Landrus) eyes and saw a kid coming across the field," Keegan Allen said. "I read the slant and it was right there."
The Titans punted four times and had 86 yards of offense in the opening half.
"We couldn't get anything going," EPG coach Stephen Rigsby said. "They crowded the box on us and did a nice job. We're not exceptionally great in the passing game as of right now. We've gotten better in that area, not enough to win playoff games at this point."
GCMS cashed in the opening drive of the second half when McNutt ran right on fourth-and-3, tight-roped the sideline and found the end zone from 24 yards out. Ben Freehill booted the third of his five extra points for a 21-0 Falcons' lead.
The margin ballooned to 35-0 on third-quarter touchdown passes of 17 and 49 yards from Keegan Allen to Sam Baillie.
The younger Allen completed 3 of 6 passes for 72 yards as the Falcons outgained the Titans, 238 yards to 228.
"They execute well. We're a little banged up in the back end (defensively), and it showed up a little tonight," Rigsby said. "I'm proud of our kids and the season we had. Hopefully our kids understand they accomplished some great things this year."
EPG's touchdown came with 1:36 remaining on a 16-yard run from Alan Moncelle, who led the Titans with 41 yards rushing. Landrus completed 6 of 21 for 83 yards.