Illinois High School Football News

Stillman Valley downs Dixon in battle of Big Northern unbeatens

Cardinals hand Dukes their first loss, take sole possession of 1st place in conference

Stillman Valley’s Owen Zitkus picks up yards against Dixon Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

DIXON – Stillman Valley makes running the football as easy as 1-2-3, and that was on full display Friday at Dixon.

Rather, the Cardinals’ running game was as easy as 7-8-9, which are the respective uniform numbers of running backs Jory Spain, Porter Needs and Owen Zitkus. On the ground, the trio combined to outgain the Dukes’ entire offense as they rolled to a 36-6 win at A.C. Bowers Field.

The game featured two unbeaten teams, and the Cardinals now find themselves in sole possession of first place in the Big Northern Conference after another previous unbeaten, Genoa-Kingston, fell to Byron on Friday.

“This was a nice test for us,” Cardinals coach Mike Lalor said. “Dixon’s got a good club and we were able to wear them down. They have some good things there, and we were able to clamp down and make a few good stops along the way.”

Spain, Needs and Zitkus combined for 285 yards on 45 carries, well exceeding the Dukes total of 155 yards. Spain rushed for three touchdowns and 108 yards on 27 carries, Needs finished at 10 rude for 99 yards and one TD, and Zitkus averaged a first down per carry at 80 yards on eight carries.

Dixon’s Aiden Wiseman looks for running room Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 against Stillman Valley.

The Cardinal offensive line paved the way for an additional 68 yards on the ground in making the work of the backs go well.

“Our backs really did their job today in communicating with the offensive linemen who gave them the linebacker’s numbers for the blocks,” Cardinal senior right guard Logan McKee said. “We were really hitting our blocks. We had a rough time early on, but I think once we could figure out our assignments and got our blocks down, we did quite all right.”

After two missed field goals in the first quarter, the Cardinals took advantage of the Dukes’ offense not gaining much ground on offense to methodically move down the field for a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, which saw Spain’s first TD and a safety as a bad Dixon snap landed in the back of the end zone.

Quarterback Braeden Engel increased the Cardinals’ lead to 16-0 with 3:19 to go in the first half after executing a fake handoff and seeing nothing but green grass as he rounded his way toward the right end and punched through for the score from 6 yards out.

“When you miss a couple of field goals like that, sometimes it comes back to haunt you and leave points on the table,” Lalor said. “To be able to overcome that, I thought was big. The kids just kept playing hard, and that was good to see.”

Stillman Valley’s Keaton Rauman intercepts a pass in front of Dixon’s Ethan Hays Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Just before the second quarter came to a close, the Dukes got on the board as Ethan Hays caught a Tyler Shaner pass in the left side of the end zone to cut the lead to 16-6, but the Cardinals held the Dukes at bay the rest of the way.

“We did everything we could this week to prepare, and our coaches did everything they could to put us in the right spots, and we just didn’t do it,” Tyler Shaner said. “We just need to play harder. It just comes down to that, effort and heart, and we didn’t have enough of it.”

Needs and Spain scored for the Cardinals in the third quarter, both from 2 yards out, and Spain added his third TD with 9:18 remaining in the game, sealing both a 30-point win and a spot at the top of the conference standings through four weeks.

“It means a lot from where we were last year coming into this year,” McKee said. “Dixon put up a great fight, and they’re a great team, and we’re happy to be where we’re at in the season.”

Hays was Shaner’s lone successful receiver with 48 yards through the air on six completions, while the running game mustered 107 yards. Keaton Rauman and Kaenan McDevitt snagged interceptions for the Cardinals.

“They wear you down, and that’s what they did,” Dukes coach Jared Shaner said. “Their program speaks for itself, and their team is also pretty good as well. We had a couple of lucky breaks early where they missed a couple of field goals, but we couldn’t get anything going offensively on those first couple of drives.”

Dixon’s Rylan Ramsdell takes the handoff from QB Tyler Shaner Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 against Stillman Valley.