The urgency is starting to set in for the Dixon Dukes.
After seeing their fourth win slip from their grasp in the final minutes last week in Winnebago, the Dukes need two more wins to become playoff eligible and three to guarantee a playoff berth in the final four weeks of the regular season.
As always, Dixon will continue to look at the little details and let the big picture take care of itself. But now past the halfway point of the season and sitting at 3-2, things are starting to get a little more in-focus.
“Absolutely, we feel it. We’re on a little losing streak right now – two in a row, and one was really close against Winnebago – and there’s definitely that urgency,” senior two-way lineman Shaun DeVries said. “Every player has their part, and I believe every player realizes that we’re not playing to our full potential. We really need to buckle down and put a little bit more effort into everything we do, and be smart football players going forward.”
The Winnebago loss was especially tough, as the Dukes led 25-14 late in the fourth quarter before the Indians scored twice in the final three minutes to steal the victory.
Winnebago scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:59 to play, then the Dukes recovered an onside kick. But an interception on third-and-long was returned to near the goal line, and Winnebago scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:04 left.
The Dukes drove down inside the Winnebago 20-yard line in three plays, but couldn’t finish off the final drive to pull out the win.
“The urgency is picking up. We talked about that on Saturday morning with the kids,” coach Jared Shaner said. “It’s part of sport, it’s part of what happens, but we let one slip away on Friday, and we’ve got to find ways not to do that these next few weeks.”
This Friday, Dixon is back home to take on Rockford Lutheran, then it’s road trips to Genoa-Kingston and Byron the next two weeks, followed by a home finale against Rock Falls.
Offensively, Dixon is turning its focus to taking care of the ball, after six turnovers (three fumbles, three interceptions) in the loss to Winnebago. Tyler Shaner went 16 for 21 for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran 18 times for 73 yards, but the Dukes only rushed for 121 yards as a team against ‘Bago.
DeVries says it’s the basics that the Dukes need to take care of better, and it starts up front.
“We definitely need to contain our double-teams on the line,” he said. “We have to stick to the double-team; what we’ve been trying to do is go up to the ‘backer, trying to overachieve, but I think we need to stick to the basics, go step-by-step, drive them back. It’s stuff that we’ve practiced for a long time, and I know we can do it, we’ve just got to really dial in and make sure we start before we finish.”
For the season, Aiden Wiseman has 59 rushes for 458 yards and six touchdowns, and Shaner has 76 carries for 356 yards and five scores. Shaner is 41-for-70 passing for 527 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and Ethan Hays has been his favorite target with 19 catches for 295 yards and four scores. Eli Davidson (6-92, TD), Rylan Ramsdell (7-75, 2 TDs) and Jath St. Pier (6-55) have also contributed on the receiving corps.
On the other side of the ball, Dixon is preparing for another offense different from any they’ve seen this year. Lutheran (3-2) is comfortable and efficient both running the ball and attacking through the air, and it’s been effective in its current two-game win streak.
The Crusaders have defeated Rock Falls and Oregon by a combined 76-6 the last two weeks, after consecutive losses to G-K and Byron by a combined 87-26.
“They are, again, probably different than anybody else we’ve played, because they will both run and throw,” Shaner said. “They’ll get in a two-back set and kind of run power stuff, and they’ll also spread you out and throw it down the field, too. They have some good athletes, they have some good schemes, and we’re going to have to prepare well this week to get stops, and then on the other side of the ball, to take care of the football and score.”
DeVries again points to the little details as the key to the defense being able to keep the Crusaders in check.
“D-line, we definitely need to lower our pad level. We’ve definitely been getting too high, eye-to-eye with them, which is not what we’re really supposed to be doing,” DeVries said. “We’re not really using our hands much on the line, either, but we do have a little thing going on this week, and I think we’re definitely going to figure it out. It’s just the minor things again, and we’ve got to be better at them.”
The catalyst for Lutheran’s offense is dual-threat quarterback Kyng Hughes. Equally dangerous with his arm and legs, Hughes accounted for 233 total yards last week, including 193 yards on 7-for-15 passing, and he ran for a touchdown and threw for another.
“He’s a big, good-looking kid who runs it well and throws it well,” Shaner said. “He’s played for a couple years now, and he makes their offense go.”
Running back A.J. Moore and receiver Tresean Lockhart also scored TDs against Oregon, with Moore running in twice from 1 yard out and Lockhart catching a 52-yard scoring strike.
But it’s Hughes who will receive the lion’s share of focus from opposing defenses, and this week is no exception. The Dukes know it comes down to everyone carrying out their responsibilities if they want to contain the dynamic QB.
“It’s kind of simple: it’s just us running our defense. If everybody does their job correctly and takes care of their responsibilities, consistency is how you beat a quarterback like him,” DeVries said. “If he runs the ball outside, we’ve got somebody who’s ready there; if he tries to run through the middle, we’ve got somebody who’s ready there. We just have to be aware of where he is, and do our jobs and trust our teammates to do theirs.”