PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — The more things change, the more they remain the same for Peoria High.

The Lions suffered two early season losses but nobody within the program hit the panic button. And now Peoria High is back in the playoff hunt with a team that is throwing the ball and putting points on the scoreboard.


“I think we change every year based on who we have and what our personnel looks like,” Peoria High head coach Tim Thornton said. “I think the amount we’ve grown from week to week is similar to last year.”

Last year, the Lions (5-2) had bruising running back Malachi Washington lead the way all the way to a class 5A state runner-up finish. The Lions are throwing the ball a little more this year with senior quarterback Tino Gist leading the offense.

Maliek Ross was Washington’s understudy last season and is now the player getting the tough yards in that Peoria offense that is averaging 55 points a game heading into Friday’s showdown with 6-1 Normal West.

“We’re two different running backs. I feel like we’re both good running backs but we have different games,” Ross said of the comparisons to Washington. “I have to focus on me. I look at him as a (great) player but I focus on (this year).”

A big change for the Lions this year is playing on the new turf at Peoria Stadium. The Lions say they love their new digs and just getting to practice there once a week has helped the team’s attitude.

“Football season can get real monotonous, the change in scenery is nice,” Thornton said. “We get to mix it up here and get a change of scenery. It helps our energy.”

The Lions will host Normal West on that turf Friday on a night when rain is in the forecast.

“It’s definitely different. We are excited to come out here. Being on the turf is different,” said senior Kevin Roberts. “It’s different for us to be out here and practice on the field. It’s our home.”

And the Lions are right at home in the thick of the playoff race again.