By Andy Colbert
For Shaw Media
FORRESTON – In what coach Keynon Janicke termed “the worst start you could ever have”, Forreston suffered a 36-26 loss to Durand-Pecatonica in NUIC football action on Friday.
Without running a play from scrimmage, the Cardinals trailed 14-0 and were in danger of having that deficit increase after Du-Pec recovered a fumbled kickoff at the 32-yard line. Moments earlier they pounced on an onside kick and Will Howard caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Hoffman.
“You can’t let that happen. Getting down like that, it’s hard to come back,” Janicke said.
Fortunately for Janicke and his Cardinals, they were able to keep the visitors out of the end zone and finally got the ball for the first time.
From that point forward it was ‘game on’, with Forreston eventually outgaining Du-Pec 409 total yards to 334. In the second half alone, the Cardinals ran 51 plays compared to only 10 for Du-Pec, gaining 206 on the ground and 23 on its lone completed pass, a touchdown from Brock Smith to Micah Nelson.
“We needed to put more points on the board,” Janicke said. “We have great kids, real fighters to the end.”
Once Forreston recovered from the onslaught, it wasted little time in closing the gap to 14-8 on a 47-yard touchdown run by Caleb Sanders, who looked like a tackle-breaking machine on the play.
AJ Mulcahey, who ran 27 yards up the middle untouched on Du-Pec’s first score, answered back with a 63-yard touchdown run on the very next play from scrimmage to increase the lead to 22-8. The 6-3, 200-pound senior finished with 141 yards on 12 carries.
“He was running harder than us,” Janicke said. “It’s was challenge responding to him.”
Late in the first quarter, Forreston advanced to the Rivermen’s 25-yard line but Sanders was tackled for no gain by Mulcahey on fourth down. Mulcahey made it 30-8 on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Hoffman.
Three Cardinal defenders had a shot at him in the flat, but Mulcahey stretched over the goaline for the score. That score culminated a 12-play drive that featured three penalties on the Rivermen.
Taking over at their 35-yard line, Forreston cut the lead to 30-14 on a 14-play drive, the key moment being a 25-yard run by Johnny Kober. Kober capped off the drive with a 1-yard score with 11 second left in the half.
That momentum carried into the third quarter with 17-play drive that went 64 yards. However, Smith fumbled in the red zone and the subsequent fourth-down play failed.
“We stressed a bend, but don’t break philosophy,” Du-Pec coach Tyler Hoffman said.
Forreston got the ball back after the only punt of the game and proceeded to go on another long drive, this time 90 yards and 21 plays, highlighted by Kober carrying would-be tacklers for 15 yards.
Kober, who had 113 yards on 20 carries, tacked on the score to make it 30-20 in the fourth quarter. Sanders also went over 100 yards for Forreston.
Forreston may have won the battle of yardage, but Du-Pec was the winner on special teams. On the ensuing kickoff, Nathan Folk grabbed a squib kick and ran for a touchdown to up the lead to 36-20.
Forreston was also burned on a fake punt that led to Du-Pec’s first score, besides the aforementioned fumbled kickoff by McKeon Crase in the first quarter.
In their defense, key specialist Payton Encheff was injured last week and out for an indefinite period.
“”Payton’s a game changer and losing him on special teams hurts,” Janicke said.
The Smith to Nelson TD pass came with two minutes left and a missed extra point sealed the victory for the Rivermen.
“We can’t afford to make mistakes like we did tonight, and that includes missing extra points,” Janicke said.
Forreston made their first PAT, but uncharacteristically missed the last four.
The Cardinals had 388 rushing yards on an astonishing 73 attempts. Du-Pec had 194 yards on the ground and got 140 passing from the sophomore Hoffman, who was 12-for-13 in his first start.
It was the second year in a row that 3A Du-Pec has defeated 1A Forreston, whipping the Cardinals 28-0 in 2021.
“This one has a different feel to it. We played much better,” Janicke said.