Trailing by 13 points to start the fourth quarter, the Dixon Dukes could be heard in the huddle between periods telling each other they were not going to lose this game.
Turns out it wasn’t just talk to pump each other up.
Dixon scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and got two defensive stops in the quarter to defeat Rockford Lutheran 22-19 on Friday night on Homecoming at A.C. Bowers Field.
“This is great. We’ve had a tough past two weeks, and for us to pull out this win is a great thing for our team, and for the weeks ahead,” junior running back/linebacker Aiden Wiseman said.
Tyler Shaner ran for 293 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another, Wiseman added 133 yards on the ground, and Shaner hit his brother Cullen on a game-sealing fourth-down conversion pass as the Dukes bounced back from last week’s last-minute loss to Winnebago.
Dixon (4-2) took over at its own 6-yard line with 1:26 left in the third quarter, down 19-7. Fourteen plays later, after overcoming a touchdown being taken off the board due to a penalty, Tyler Shaner ran in from 5 yards out to cut the deficit to 19-14.
After a three-and-out stop by the defense, the Dukes picked up a first down and then faced a first-and-15 from their own 31-yard line. Shaner took care of that too, starting up the middle and breaking to the left sideline, where he outran the Lutheran defense for a 69-yard touchdown and a 20-19 lead. He then ran in the two-point conversion for a three-point lead with 5:55 remaining.
“That was the turning point of the game, in my opinion,” Shaner said. “I was really tired, but I just knew if I got caught, we might not score, and I knew I had to score to get us the lead. I’m so grateful that we did.”
“When he did that, I thought, ‘OK, we’re back in the lead, let’s finish this one,’” Wiseman added. “That was the turning point in the game right there.”
The Crusaders (3-3) started their next drive at their own 15-yard line, and managed to get two first downs – converting a fourth-and-2 for the second one – to the 44-yard line. But a holding penalty put them behind the chains, and a screen pass netted 5 yards before two incompletions turned the ball over on downs.
Dixon then faced a fourth-and-10 from the Lutheran 36, with 42.9 seconds remaining. With Shaner lining up as the punter, he took the snap, saw Cullen Shaner running wide open down the seam, and put the ball in the air. It was a bit underthrown, but the sophomore backup quarterback-turned-receiver made a diving catch coming back to it for a 13-yard gain and a first down to clinch the victory.
The Dukes had their chances early, driving inside the Lutheran 10-yard line twice in the first half but coming away empty – once on a holding penalty, once on an incomplete pass on fourth down with 1 second left before halftime.
“That fourth-quarter drive kind of made up for that a little bit, yeah,” Shaner said. “We still obviously made mistakes – we need to capitalize on those drives – but I’m so proud of our guys, and we finished when we needed to.”
The best play all game seemed to be a slow-mesh handoff between Shaner and Wiseman, where Shaner would put the ball in Wiseman’s belly and keep it there for an extended read of the defense, before deciding to either give it to Wiseman or pull it out and run it himself.
Most of the time, Shaner took it himself and went straight up the middle of the defense, where he consistently found running room thanks to big holes from his offensive line.
“They were blocking well. They had a great game, all five of them up front,” Shaner said. “All six, seven, however many of them got in, they all played great. And I’m very grateful for a fantastic offensive line.”
Lutheran took the lead on its second possession, turning an interception by Jonah Miller into a 63-yard scoring drive, capped by Kyng Hughes’ 25-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Moore.
Dixon answered right back, as it overcame a holding penalty on first-and-goal as Shaner connected with Wiseman on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
Lutheran took the lead two possessions later, as Hughes ran in from 6 yards out, but the extra point kick missed wide, and it was 13-7. The Crusaders stretched it to 19-7 when David Ballard III ran in from 8 yards out with 1:34 left in the third period; the two-point pass was incomplete.
But the Dukes found a way to get the stops when they needed them, and now need just one more win to reach playoff eligibility.
“We just had to dig down deep. We talked about it halftime, we all linked up and just talked about what was going on, what we had to do better,” Wiseman said. “We just came together as a team and were able to pull out the victory.”
Shaner completed 7 of his 14 passes for 56 yards and the touchdown to Wiseman, and he ran the ball 30 times for his nearly 300 yards. Wiseman had 25 carries for 133 yards and caught the TD pass, while Collin Scott had three catches for 12 yards, and Cullen Shaner caught three passes for 20 yards. Rylan Ramsdell had the other reception.
Hughes had 11 rushes for 94 yards and a touchdown, and was 4-for-14 passing for 48 yards and a score for Lutheran. Gavin Sanders ran for 89 yards on 11 carries, and Ballard finished with 18 yards on five rushes.