LENA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –This weekend of high school football has been circled on the calendars of many folks, especially in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference. The conference’s top two teams Lena-Winslow (6-0, 5-0) and DuPec (5-1, 5-0) will meet in Lena with the winner taking over sole possession of first place in our “Overtime” game of the week.
For years Lena-Winslow’s biggest rivalry games have been against Forreston and Dakota, but almost overnight DuPec has now jumped up into that same category.
“I think out of anybody in our conference right now it has become probably a rivalry I think,” said Le-Win coach Ric Arand. “Even though it’s been a couple short years.”
A couple years at the varsity level, but the ties have gone deep for the current varsity players.
“Ever since our junior high days when we first started football, we’ve always been neck-and-neck,” said Le-Win tight end and linebacker Brody Mahon. “We’re always right there with them.”
What really made this a full-blown rivalry was the game these two teams had this past spring on the final week of the season. DuPec was leading Le-Win 21-8 until Le-Win returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, and then with 12 seconds to play Evan England scored on a three-yard touchdown run by just barely getting the nose of the football over the goal line. That gave Le-Win a comeback 24-21 win.
“We thought we had a lot of the facets of the game won,” said DuPec coach Tyler Hoffman. “Some things didn’t bounce literally our way in that game, and so we use that as a teaching moment to get us ready for this week.”
“It just left a bad taste in our mouth especially after I think it was a winnable game, and we just didn’t handle it at the end,” said DuPec receiver/defensive end Trent Hetland.
“That game was insane,” said Mahon. “Everybody around here knows it. That game was one of the most physical games I’ve been a part of. This next game I believe will be nothing but more.”
Lena-Winslow might be the number one team in the state in Class 1A. The Panthers have never had more speed than they have this season all over the field.
“On film they look a lot faster, and we’ve heard that from a lot of people that played them in person,” said Hoffman.
This might be DuPec’s best team yet. The Rivermen have a talented quarterback in Hunter Hoffman, but this season the Rivermen have achieved that almost perfect blend between the run and the pass with running backs Trenton Taylor and AJ Mulcahy producing big.
DuPec’s defense has been equally impressive with standout players like Hetland, Drake Fortson, and Jake Anderson. That unit shutout Forreston and last week Dakota.
“I think our defense is playing great,” said Taylor. “I remember at the beginning of the season they didn’t think our corners were going to do that well and the defensive backs, but they’ve been showing out. I think we have like a pick a game.”
Panthers’ all-conference offense tackle Ross Stabenow has respect for DuPec’s defensive front. “The first thing that comes to mind is Jake Anderson. He’s a D-1 commit. Their defensive line, you watch the film they’ve got a couple big guys, and their one big guy is very mobile for being what he is.”
“Their front four are big, and they’re athletic,” said Arand. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
NOTE: For highlights of this game tune in to “Overtime” live at 11 p.m. on Fox 39.