Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Late surge last week gives Dixon some confidence against Genoa-Kingston

Dukes hope to carry over momentum from fourth-quarter comeback win in Week 6

Dixon’s Tyler Shaner picks ups yards against Rockford Lutheran Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Facing a 12-point deficit with less than 12 minutes to play last Friday night, the Dixon Dukes finally found something they’d been looking for since the game started.

Two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes turned a 19-7 deficit into a 22-19 victory over Rockford Lutheran on Homecoming at A.C. Bowers Field – and might have provided the spark the Dukes need for the final three weeks of the regular season.

“It’s almost like we woke up for the fourth quarter, got the intensity right and started doing our job better and playing actual football,” senior Hunter Vacek said. “We need to start earlier this week, from kickoff, have that mentality to go out there, play physical, stay low, do your job, and play the way we know we can.”

It’s a message coach Jared Shaner imparted to the players at the beginning of their first practice this week in preparation for Genoa-Kingston.

“I hope that’s the case, that the kids gained some confidence from the way they finished the game last Friday,” Shaner said. “We talked Monday at practice about how we played with a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter, and we need to do that from the start in order to compete with Genoa-Kingston.”

Dixon (4-2) visits the Cogs (5-1) for a Big Northern showdown on Friday, a game pitting two teams in the top half of the conference standings two-thirds of the way through the season. G-K comes in off wins over Rock Falls (58-6) and Oregon (19-0) the past two weeks, as the Cogs have bounced back from their lone loss, a 35-15 defeat against Byron in Week 4.

Genoa-Kingston runs a physical, hard-nosed ground game featuring multiple backs. Brody Engel and Ethan Wilnau were the starters at the beginning of the season, but Maddox Lavender, Traven Atterberry, Patrick Young, Nolan Kline and Peyton Meyer have also carried the ball on and off this season.

“We’ll see a lot of running, that’s for sure. We’ve just got to fill the gaps that need to be filled, stop them before they get out and run, because they’re fast,” senior Jath St. Pier. “As soon as we fill the gaps, it’s over for them. We’ve just got to know what we need to do, then do it.”

Genoa-Kingston's Maddox Lavender fights for yards against Oregon during Friday, Sept. 30 action at Landers-Loomis Field.

Quarterback Nathan Kleba doesn’t run the ball much, but he will throw on occasion – usually when the defense has been lulled to sleep by the Cogs’ rushing attack.

“It’s nothing fancy, they run pretty much straight at you, and they’re very, very disciplined. The thing that jumps out on film is how hard their kids play,” Shaner said. “Skill-wise, they have some really athletic kids; they’re not overly big, but they run the ball really hard. And as soon as you over-commit or stop reading your keys, they’ll hit a play-action pass deep on you.”

Vacek says that threat of a play-action pass is always in the back of the defense’s mind, but if everybody does what they’re supposed to do, it shouldn’t be an issue as the Dukes try to attack downhill against the run.

“Stay disciplined is the No. 1 rule for defense,” Vacek said. “We have to be more physical, and we have to be lower than they are, shoulder pads-wise. We have to fill our gaps, pretty much do your job, read the guards, fill in what your key is, and have all 11 men on the field do their job and play as a team.”

Dixon’s offense is coming off one of its best performances on the ground all season, as quarterback Tyler Shaner ran for 293 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, and running back Aiden Wiseman added 133 yards on 25 rushes. Those two also connected for a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter last week.

The key to a repeat performance starts with execution.

“Just everybody blocking, running the plays right,” Vacek said. “All four wide receivers need to go and find their corners, safeties, linebackers. Our linemen need to go to the ‘backers to fill for blocks. We’ve got to move the line of scrimmage upfield a couple of yards every play, and avoid plays that go for loss of yards.”

On the season, Tyler Shaner has 106 rushes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns, and Wiseman has 84 carries for 588 yards and six scores. Shaner is 48 for 84 through the air for 584 yards, with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions; Ethan Hays is the leading receiver with 19 catches for 295 yards and four scores. Rylan Ramsdell has nine receptions for 83 yards, as eight different receivers have caught passes this season.

That balance might be key to keeping the Cogs guessing.

“They like to crowd the line of scrimmage, and they run a free safety and two high [defensive backs], so we just need to find those openings,” St. Pier said. “Being able to run the ball is probably the most important thing. Coach always says, ‘Run the ball and pass when you want to, not when you have to.’ That’s going to be big for us Friday.”

The defensive alignment is pretty consistent, according to coach Shaner, and the physicality and effort Genoa-Kingston brings to the table every snap has also caught the eye of the Dixon coaching staff.

And after struggling to hold onto the football at times this season, as well as seeing a pair of first-half drives inside the 10-yard line end without points last week, the head coach pointed to those areas as the key.

“They pretty much play a 4-4 Cover 3 all the time, and it feels like their guys are sitting back, but they’ll read the play and once they’re committed, it’s 11 hats to the football,” Shaner said. “They don’t give up a lot of big plays, and we’ll definitely have to be sure of, No. 1, ball security, and No. 2, we haven’t done a good job finishing drives, so we have to make sure when we get in position Friday, we finish drives with points.”