There are always lessons to be learned in football, but losses can be an especially fertile ground from which to grow.
After a 34-19 loss to Genoa-Kingston last week, the Dixon Dukes saw plenty they could improve upon – and they’ll get a chance to see what they learned this week in their home finale.
Undefeated Byron comes to A.C. Bowers Field on Friday night, with a nearly identical attack as the Cogs on both sides of the ball.
“It’s basically a mirror image, almost identical to last week,” Dixon coach Jared Shaner said. “The great part is when we got together as coaches this past weekend, plans didn’t change a whole lot. You’re going to see legitimately just about the exact same offense coming at you, and they’re defensively very, very similar: four-man front, they’re going to be aggressive, they’ve got athletes on the edge that can play man-to-man coverage, and you’ve got to be able to make some plays out there in order to loosen them up a little bit.”
That’s something the Dukes have been able to do at times this season. With sophomore Tyler Shaner taking over just days before the first game after senior Jacob Gaither injured a finger in his throwing hand, the passing game has still been consistent. Shaner has thrown for 905 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only three interceptions, on 72-for-114 passing (63.2%).
With Gaither returning last week, it’s unclear who will take snaps Friday night. But he’s just happy to be back, and will play wherever he can help the team the most.
“It’s fine, 100%,” Gaither said about his right pinky. “I’m not sure where I’m playing yet; wherever Coach Shaner decides to put me, I’ll play there.
“This is the game we were targeting for me to be back, at least at 50% with a club on or something. So being back 100% with no club, no nothing, feels good. I feel like we’re going to do good things.”
Shaner broke the lower bone in his right pinky and dislocated the finger trying to break his fall in practice just days before the season opener. He underwent surgery soon after, and returned to practice last week.
“It felt so good being out there, even just on the defensive side where I could practice without my pinky healthy, so I could work on my footwork and stuff,” Gaither said. “It felt good to be out there, and I’m so happy to be back on the field.”
Rylan Ramsdell (71 rushes, 476 yards, 5 TDs), Tyler Shaner (76-430, 5 TDs) and Zavion Johnson (32-416, 3 TDs) lead the ground game, and Mitchell White has run for 91 yards and four scores. Shaner’s favorite targets in the passing game have been Mason Randick (28 catches, 336 yards, 9 TDs), Jacob Gusse (20-264, 4 TDs) and Jath St. Pier (14-225, 2 TDs), and now he might have a new weapon on the perimeter in the tall, athletic Gaither.
After seeing what Genoa-Kingston brought to the table in terms of power and physicality, the Dukes are ready for the challenge of seeing another tough team for the second week in a row.
“I think last week prepared us to play more intense, and then just to really train in our minds that we just need to stick our jobs, not worry about another man’s job and just trust our teammates,” senior Justin Dallas said. “We’ve just got to learn that we have to operate more as a team, we’ve got to move together as a unit instead of just different chunks of our offense and defense. We can’t make any excuses for last week, we’ve just got to keep going from that.”
The Dukes’ biggest lesson learned is to come out of the gate ready to go. After finding themselves down 14-0 less than three minutes into the game last week, coach Shaner knows a big key will be to not dig a hole before the game even gets into a flow.
“I think just the speed and physicality right from the start,” coach Shaner said. “We were sluggish at the beginning of the game. I remember specifically looking at the scoreboard, there were 9 minutes, 4 seconds left in the first quarter and we were down 14-0. I told the kids afterward, I’ll take that, that’s on me. I’ve got to find a way to make them come out and play better from the start.
“From that point on, for all but three minutes of the game, the score was 20-19 them. So I feel like we did match them after that, but we’ve got to come and do that for 48 minutes, not 45 minutes.”