A week ago at this time, the Dixon football team was eager to get its season started. Wednesday afternoon, there was a bit more urgency to get its first win.
Coming off a loss to Winnebago where a 14-0 halftime lead turned into a 19-14 defeat, the Dukes are now eager to notch that first W after seeing a potential victory slip away. They visit Rockford Lutheran for a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
“Bouncing back is going to take a lot of heart and a lot of guts,” senior Jaylen Carr said. “It’s bull-headed mode now. The butterflies are gone … and it’s going to be a dog-on-dog fight this week.”
First-year head coach Jared Shaner attributed the inconsistency in the opener to those first-game jitters, as well as the excitement of getting back on the field taking its toll as the game wore on.
“Looking back over last week’s game, of course as coaches you rehash it over and over all weekend long and watch the film. I think it played out, unfortunately, kind of like the first games sort of do,” Shaner said. “Our defense played lights out in the first half, and it was adrenaline and we were excited to be out there and the kids played really hard.
“Then in the second half … that adrenaline left and we got worn out a little bit, and in athletics, one of the first things to go when you get tired is right between your ears. We just made a couple mistakes that hopefully we’ll get corrected this week.”
Dixon’s main concern will be finishing off drives on offense and getting off the field on defense. The Dukes had two first-half drives deep in Winnebago territory that came up empty, and defensively saw some early stops turn into long Winnebago drives after halftime.
“Absolutely, and both of those things were key, and really the difference in terms of the scoreboard and a win or loss last week,” he said. “We had two trips inside the red zone where we didn’t score; on one, we put a nice two-minute drive together before the half and just didn’t punch it in, and then another one we threw an interception on a play-action pass where we had driven the ball down the length of the field.
“And then the exact opposite is true defensively; we did a really nice job for three-plus quarters of the game and let them have two longer drives that they punched it in on us. So we’ve got to find ways to finish on offense and get off the field on D.”
After addressing those mistakes and looking at what they need to do better for a full 48 minutes, the Dukes have spent the rest of the week preparing for another typical Lutheran team.
“They’re exactly the same again this year,” Shaner said. “They have a couple of monsters up on the O-line who rotate in and out defensively as well. A really good looking running back, a big kid who runs hard and fast, good speed. I was impressed with the quarterback and another slot that they had. They distribute the ball well.
“They were definitely more run-heavy in the game that we have seen. We need to go in with the mindset of shutting the run down and making them throw the ball.”
Dixon has been running drills to work on doing just that, and Carr and Co. know to expect anything when the Crusaders have the ball.
“They’re known for being a strong running team, so we’ve got to try and shut that down. But we’ve got to be ready for anything they throw at us,” he said, “any counters or sweeps or trick plays, anything like that. There’s nothing that we aren’t ready for.”
When the Dukes have the ball, they hope to present their typical run-pass balance to keep the Crusaders on their heels. But as always, Dixon’s offense knows it all starts with a hard-nosed mindset against a strong Big Northern defensive unit.
“We have to be ready to go from the start, and play smart,” Carr said. “It’s going to take a lot more than just playing and being physical, because they’re physical guys too, and we know that.”
Dixon at Rockford Lutheran
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lutheran H.S.
Radio: 1460 AM