NUIC Football Playoff Preview
By Al Zipsie
Four teams in the NUIC, all from the Northwest are left reaching the IHSA football quarterfinals this coming weekend.
The strongest Conference in the state went 3-0 in games with other leagues. And in an NUIC showdown, Forreston had all they could handle before getting by Milledgeville in a 22-20 overtime thriller. The MIssiles from the Upstate finish the season 11-1. There was lots of talk that Milledgeville from the smaller enrollment Upstate could not stay with Forreston from the Northwest. The Missiles proved everybody wrong in the battle. With the Missiles eliminated, all the playoff teams from the Upstate are done with Orangeville, Polo and Stockton losing in the opening round.
And one other game was a battle to the end in 1A as Dakota (8-3) at home knocked off previously unbeaten Ottawa Marquette 14-12. While Dakota now plays at Forreston in a rematch, Marquette took the long bus ride home with their season-ending. The Cardinals beat Dakota 40-20 in week three, but they have found a new gear in the playoffs and it should be a close game.
"Our seniors have just taken their game to another level since the minute the pairings came out," said Dakota coach Joe Free. "It's just been a different vibe with them in film, practice, and games. They're so locked in and just holding everybody to a higher standard.I'm just excited for the kids to experience this opportunity and glad they've taken our school on this ride so far in November. It means a lot to get to the quarterfinals for the first time as a head coach."
A key to the win was Dakota was able to hold the high powered OM rushing offense to just 100 yards. Dakota never trailed leading 7-0, then 7-6 at end of the first quarter which held until the fourth quarter. The Indians with 9:06 left in the game scored a touchdown and the PAT to lead 14-6. Marquette would score a TD with 6:10 left cutting the lead to 14-12. Then the pivotal two-point conversion which would have tied the game and possibly force overtime. However, the Dakota defense got in the backfield and linebacker/running back Trey Engelbrecht ended up with the stop for a five-yard loss. Then the Indians offense would answer converting three straight third-down plays to run out the clock and clinch the win.
"The defense played awesome and we've really come a long way since week 3 (the loss to Forreston)," said Free. "We've diversified our offense and we have a new defensive coordinator in Dan Sheets, that has brought some fresh ideas to help our defense which I felt was getting stagnant because I was spread too thin being the head coach and defensive coordinator."
Dakota quarterback Josh Clark led the rushing with 77 yards on 24 carries, had a two-yard TD keeper and completed all six passes for 37 yards. On defense linebacker, Aden Cassidy had seven tackles and an interception. Luke Schwarze a lineman also had seven tackles and a sack. Cassidy also went over the 1,000-yard mark for career rushing. Showing NUIC spirit many Orangeville fans who last week lost to Marquette came out to support Dakota.
Host Milledgeville earned respect as they gave Forreston all they could handle before falling 22-20 in overtime. The Missiles scored a TD and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 with 2:47 left before halftime. It remained that way through regulation. Forreston got the ball first and Garrett Badertscher found the end zone on the second play of OT. Badertscher then added what would turn out to be the game-winning points on the two-point conversion rush to lead 22-14. Jack Munz would score a TD for Milledgeville. Now trailing 22-20, they needed the two-point conversion to force another overtime, but it failed for a heartbreaking end to the season.
In 1A Lena-Winslow dominated Chicago Orr scoring all of their 49 points by halftime. The Panthers won 49-14 holding Orr to minus 16 yards of offense. Lena-Winslow scored touchdowns on three of their first four plays including a pair of Isaiah Bruce touchdown runs of 24 and 28 yards. Bruce only a junior this made his commitment to play for Division 1 Iowa. Lena-Winslow (10-1) the defending state champs will face a test in the quarterfinals at Aurora Christian who beat Princeville 41-0. AC has three losses but to bigger and solid teams.
In the quarterfinals in 2A Eastland/Pearl City, the only NUIC team still unbeaten (at 11-0) will play another unbeaten at Orion. E/PC rolled over Chicago Christian 48-14 while Orion got by Rockridge 21-17. It will be an intriguing matchup.
Stateline Sports Hub. NUIC Rankings.
- Eastland/Pearl City. 11-0.
- Lena-Winslow. 10-1.
- Forreston 9-2.
- Milledgeville 10-1.
- Dakota 8-3.
- Stockton 7-3.
- Orangeville 5-5.
- Polo 5-5.
- Aquin 4-5.
- River Ridge 4-5.