The Dixon Dukes are 2-0 this season, and they still haven’t put together a clean game. That’s something they hope to rectify in their home opener Friday night against Rockford Christian.
A 34-6 win over Oregon in Week 1 was marred by 14 penalties for 140 yards. Last week in a 21-14 win over North Boone, Dixon fumbled four times, losing two of them, and also threw two interceptions.
And while the wins keep both performances from stinging quite as much, coach Jared Shaner knows that the Dukes can’t keep making those mistakes and expect to keep winning.
“We didn’t improve from Week 1 to Week 2 like I wanted,” he said. “We definitely saw improvement in the penalty aspect; we were much less penalized and played a cleaner game. However, you can’t have four turnovers; winning like that won’t happen too many more weeks of this season. So we’ve got a lot to improve upon. We watched a lot of film with the guys, pointed out mistakes, and we’re practicing this week to try to improve on those areas.”
Rockford Christian (1-1) comes in off a pair of close games to open the season. The Royal Lions beat Rock Falls 14-0 in Week 1, then followed that up with a 14-8 loss to Oregon in overtime last Friday night; Rockford Christian led 8-0 early in the fourth quarter before the Hawks rallied.
Schematically, the Dukes see some spread formation from the Royal Lions like they’ve seen in the first two games. But there’s also a ground game that they have yet to defend consistently this season, though it’s something they’ll see quite a bit more of over the final six games.
“It’s kind of a mix, honestly,” senior lineman Shaun DeVries said. “Some of the pass stuff and run stuff were mixed in between both teams we’ve already played, so it’s kind of like a refresher. There’s not much new that we haven’t seen yet.”
“They’re a pretty balanced team,” senior wideout/defensive back Ethan Hays added. “They run the ball and pass it to keep you off-balance, so we’re going to see both the run and the pass this week. We just have to stop it, not give up any big plays.”
After running for 236 yards and throwing for 130 against Oregon in the opener, Dixon used a much more run-oriented attack in the Week 2 win over North Boone. Both Aiden Wiseman and Tyler Shaner ran for 122 yards in a 272-yard rushing performance as a team, but Shaner only threw 10 passes, completing four of them for 30 yards.
That wasn’t necessarily the game plan going in, but it was something the Dukes saw in the Vikings’ defense that they were able to exploit.
“We thought we’d be a little more balanced than that, and credit North Boone; they had a good game plan, came out and controlled the ball. I think the first time we touched the ball was with five minutes to go in the first quarter. They really slowed it down, which is not typical for them,” coach Shaner said. “Then we’d go out and put a couple nice plays together and have an interception, then we’d get a stop and get the ball back and we fumbled it. We couldn’t get in a rhythm, and then once we did, it just happened to be our run game. For the most part, our O-line executed pretty well, and we were able to get yards on the ground, and really didn’t need to go to the air a lot.”
The key for Dixon this week is to find their rhythm on offense, and that comes with eliminating mistakes and getting back to solid fundamental football.
“Last week, we found a lot of things that we liked in the run game, so we just kept doing it. It worked out for us,” Hays said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball. That sets up our offense every game. Obviously we want to pass the ball well when we get the chance; I think we’re a really good passing team, we just haven’t had to show it yet. If the run game’s there, why stray away from it?
“We just want to do everything well, and keep firing on all cylinders from an offensive standpoint.”
The run game is critical to the Dukes’ ability to run their offense the way they want, to dictate to the opposing defense instead of being dictated to.
That’s the mentality Shaner and his coaching staff hope to get back to Friday night.
“In our system, the goal would be throw it when you want to, not when you have to, so for us to be able to come out and establishing a running game is big,” he said. “Then you can take your shots when you want to in the passing game, as opposed to, ‘Well, they’ve shut us down four straight run plays, now we’ve got to go to the air.’ So I hope we gained some confidence in the ground game these last couple of weeks.”
The thing the Dukes are most looking forward to is playing in front of their home fans at A.C. Bowers Field for the first time. And for DeVries, he says it’s even more special that it comes on 9-11 weekend.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting game,” DeVries said. “It’s our first home game, and it’s the 9-11 week, so we get to wear our camo jerseys out of respect for those who have fallen – and I really appreciate that. I think it’s just going to be a fun game between both teams, and we’re ready to get out there and play.”