WASHINGTON — What a grand night for Washington High School.
The long-awaited bleachers project made its football debut in the home opener. A senior night ceremony before the game turned emotional when law enforcement personnel showed up to stand behind a Panthers player. And Washington, down 23-0 at one point, finished the night with a last-play victory.
Here we go.
Washington High School senior tight end Max Eccles had an entourage of support in a pre-game ceremony honoring seniors on Babcook Field before the Panthers home opener Friday.
His father, Brad Eccles, died from a heart attack following a surgery in December. He'd been a deputy at Tazewell County for 25 years.
So on Friday, Max Eccles was escorted to the field by his mother, and about 50 law enforcement personnel from Tazewell County, Washington, Morton, Pekin, East Peoria, Peoria, Peoria County police departments, the U.S. Marshals office and others.
"I'm almost speechless," Eccles said. "I never expected this many people to come here, and I'm just in awe right now.
"I know how much my dad meant to me, and now I can see how much he meant to them, too."
Washington fans don't have to look into the sun anymore at football games on Babcook Field.
New home bleachers, an expanded press box and more were part of a $6 million project on the school's campus.
Fans spent their first football game with the new setup at Friday's home opener. The new home bleachers seat 2,500 after being moved from the east side of the field to the west.
The old bleachers on the east side hold 1,500 for the visiting team.
"I guess we have the (biggest) and best visiting-side bleachers in the Mid-Illini Conference," joked Clint Reed, the former Washington coach who now serves as statistician. "I started keeping stats here in 1973, so I know how long overdue this was."
Washington head coach Darrell Crouch gazed up at the expansive grandstand as his team went through warmups on the field.
"That press box is fantastic," he said. "And our fans aren't looking into the sun anymore. Track, soccer, lacrosse, marching band -- it's not just football that benefits."
With the new grandstand came a first-time concept for Panthers football -- a season tickets section. There are some fans who don't like it. And many who do. It's located in the center, right below the new press box.
"I think it's a great concept to raise more money for the athletic program," said Troy Reed, who was on hand with his wife, Kim, and is one of those season ticket holders. "We've been doing it for basketball, and lots of schools do it for various sports. This project has been 10 years in the making, and we're thrilled to see it happen."
Reed played at Washington, and was part of the Panthers football teams that went to state in 1981 and 1982. He is part of the 12th Man committee that worked on the grandstand project.
"We can sell 250 season tickets, although we haven't even had time yet to mark off the area," he said. "The funds from those tickets are going to help us buy a machine that grooms the artificial turf here."
The grandstand sprawls on the west sideline, bumping up against the Panther Plex building. The student section is at the other end.
"I think the entire project is amazing," said Washington senior Brandon Johnson.
Said fellow senior Camden Schmidt: "I can see the whole field now. It's perfect."
Washington trailed 23-0 to Belleville West at Babcook Field on Friday, but rallied for a dramatic comeback victory on the final play of the game.
With no timeouts and :00.2 left in the game, Washington lined up for a fourth-and-goal play at the Belleville 2. Rylan McQueary hauled in a 2-yard pass over the middle from quarterback Brady Klein to win 33-32. Kicker Paul Sporrer nailed the PAT to clinch it.
"The defense continues to get better each week," said Washington head coach Darrell Crouch, whose team scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. "We could have folded, but it was a good team effort. First-year (kicker) Sporrer did a good job because every field goal mattered tonight."
Here's the tweet of that game-winning play, with a video captured.
Welcome to High School Football@KurtPegler@hoijim@WCHSFootball201pic.twitter.com/jJb7bnsFHd— Bryton McDonald (@bmcdonald_2)September 7, 2019
That's all for Cleve In The Eve on Week 2 of high school football, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019.
Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.