Dixon inched closer to a fourth straight playoff appearance with its 21-20 victory in double overtime last week against then-undefeated Genoa-Kingston.
A fifth win secured playoff eligibility for the Dukes, but another Big Northern victory at Winnebago on Friday night would punch a ticket to the final 32 in Class 4A.
Doubt leading up to Dixon’s meeting with Genoa-Kingston served as motivation, which gave way to validation after multiple lightning delays, 48 minutes of regulation, and two overtimes.
“People tend to say that some games you can’t win, and others you should win,” Dixon coach Dave Smith said. “We don’t listen to either one. Everyone had us losing last week. I didn’t get into this game to let people tell me what we can and can’t do.”
At 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, senior defensive lineman Bryce Christiansen wreaked havoc in the trenches for the Dukes against the Cogs.
“It’s more about my speed and staying disciplined,” Christiansen said. “I’m a good wrestler, so I know how to work people’s bodies and move the way I want to move.
“It’s about staying low and firing off the ball fast so I can make those tackles for loss,” Christiansen added.
Dixon (5-2, 5-2 BNC) held G-K to 116 total yards, including a miniscule 1.7 yards per carry.
“We’re just working hard as a team, doing what the coaches tell us to do, and doing our best,” junior linebacker Aidan Schmall said. “That way, we can figure things out.”
Offensively, the Dukes have continued to spread the ball around to several speedy playmakers. Tyler Christiansen – Bryce’s brother – is the only area running back with more than 1,000 yards through 7 weeks of the regular season (170 carries, 1,033 yards). His 13 touchdowns on the ground are tied for first in the area with Sterling’s Marquez Williams, and he’s added 13 catches for 108 receiving yards.
Junior quarterback Jacob Shafer has completed 58 percent of his passes (84-for-145) this season, accumulating 953 yards while tossing nine touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Shafer has a variety of options in the passing game. Brayden Forrest is averaging 12.5 yards per catch (24 for 301), and has found the end zone three times. Kade Callison is averaging 11.5 yards per catch, has scored four touchdowns, and also has 24 receptions. Junior Nate Long is another top target with 23 catches, 249 yards and two scores.
Isaic Sanchez caught his first touchdown of the season last week, and Talbir Chima has 41 yards and a score on four catches.
“We just work on our routes and our releases,” Forrest said, “making sure we stem our routes to get open. Everything we do receiving-wise is with Jacob, so we’ve developed that bond.”
The last time Dixon visited Winnebago, the Indians won a 65-50 shootout in Week 6 of the 2015 season. The smallest Winnebago starter on the line on both sides of the ball this season is an inch short of 6 feet. Being a big team, the Indians run a pro-style offense that features plenty of I-formation.
All-conference running back Jared Roberts has racked up 841 yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries in his senior season at Winnebago. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder also stars on defense at middle linebacker.
Fellow senior Garrett Bucker (5-10, 235) provides even more power at fullback and nose guard. Buckner has rumbled for 271 yards and four scores on 63 carries this season.
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, tight end Tanner Inglima (30 catches, 376 yards, TD) is another big-bodied threat offensively for the Indians.
“If you don’t play four quarters against Winnebago, they’ll beat you up,” Smith said. “They’re already bigger than us, so we don’t need to give them the extra advantage of being full of ourselves.
“Our kids have been in the program now for 4 years, so they know what it takes to get in the playoffs and compete in this conference.”
Caden Hawkins has added 48 carries, 249 yards and five touchdowns in the Winnebago backfield. Quarterback Zach Johnson is 66-for-121 with 808 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Like Dixon, the Indians are also seeking a fourth straight trip to the playoffs. Winnebago is 4-3 overall and in Big Northern play, but both teams have tough opponents in Week 9. The Dukes will play 3A No. 1 Byron, while the Indians will battle North Boone.
“I think Dixon is very deserving of another playoff berth,” Smith said. “I’d be happy for the city, the high school, the community, our program and our families. We’ve worked awful hard, and the community has worked hard to support us. Good things happen to people who work.”
Dixon (5-2) at Winnebago (4-3)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Winnebago H.S.
Radio: 1460 AM