NORMAL — What Spencer Parker started, Peter Deffenbaugh finished for the University High School football team Friday at Hancock Stadium.
Parker amassed two touchdowns and 254 all-purpose yards before a third-quarter ejection.
Deffenbaugh stepped in to deliver two more scores as the Pioneers wrapped up their season with a 34-26 Central State Eight Conference victory over Decatur Eisenhower.
“We finished middle of the conference,” said U High coach John Johnson, whose team ended at 3-6 overall and in league play. “I know we were picked to go 0-9. I guess we didn’t.”
Parker rushed for first downs on the game's initial four plays from scrimmage, keeping the chain gang on the move. Six Parker carries covered 63 yards with the last resulting in a 4-yard touchdown.
The Pioneers dominated on their second possession as well. Camdyn Barclay found Matt Davenport with a 26-yard touchdown strike, and Wyatt Berg’s extra point gave U High a 14-0 lead.
But Eisenhower (0-9, 0-9) stiffened on defense and pulled within 14-6 entering halftime on a 5-yard scoring pass from Brylan Phillips to Caeden Larsen. Deffenbaugh blocked the extra point.
“The first two drives were great. Then all of a sudden we went to sleep,” Johnson said. “The line blocked better in the second half.”
Parker rushed for 141 yards on 16 first-half carries before hauling in a 59-yard touchdown toss from Barclay early in the third quarter for a 21-6 margin.
Finishing with 143 yards rushing and 111 receiving, Parker was ejected after being flagged for his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after running for 6 yards.
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“He loses his cool a little bit sometimes,” Johnson said of Parker. “He got hit pretty hard and said something he shouldn’t.”
After Karon Shelley’s second interception, the Panthers pulled within 21-12 on a 19-yard touchdown catch by Eilyjah Woods.
Deffenbaugh took over the ball-carrying chores for U High and needed just three carries to churn for gains of 15, 33 and a 6-yard jaunt into the end zone at the 1:41 mark of the third quarter.
Eisenhower struck back with a 7-yard Phillips to Shelley scoring pass to cut the U High advantage to 28-20.
But the Pioneers responded with a 13-play, 64-yard march behind Deffenbaugh, who capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge.
A junior who did not get a first-half carry, Deffenbaugh finished with 142 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
“He’s a tough kid and a good runner,” Johnson said of Deffenbaugh. “He saved the day for us, no doubt about it.”
Eisenhower didn’t pack it in. Shelley returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown with 4:07 left.
U High was able to run off the final four minutes on four straight productive Deffenbaugh carries.
Barclay completed 6 of 15 passes for 153 yards. Phillips passed for 156 yards, while connecting on 17 of 33.
Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: pg_reinhardt