PECATONICA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — At the start of each football season there are a handful of games on the schedules you can point to from the start and say, ‘That’s going to be a huge game’. One of those games is Lena-Winslow against Du-Pec, and that game will happen Friday night in Pecatonica in our Overtime Gilley’s Heating and Air Conditioning Game of the Week.

We all knew the Panthers and Rivermen were going to be strong this season. Well, they might be even stronger than we imagined. Both teams are 5-0. Le-Win has outscored its opponents by an average score of 49 to 7. Du-Pec has outscored its opponents by an average score of 45 to 6. It not for running clocks and liberal substitutions, those margins would be even wider.

The Panthers are accomplishing what they’ve done despite graduating eight starters on offense and ten on defense from their state championship team last year.

“I think that’s just a testament to coach Arand and his program and the coaches they have there and the players,” said Du-Pec head coach Tyler Hoffman. “They don’t really rebuild. They just reload right. They do a great job of building that program from the bottom up.”

Du-Pec has become a perennial playoff team in recent years. Two years ago, the Rivermen defeated Le-Win on their way to winning the NUIC championship. This might be the best version of Du-Pec football yet.

“I saw them on Friday night, and if they haven’t stepped it up, I hate to see it when they do because I thought they look really good,” said Lena-Winslow head coach Ric Arand. “They’re really, really sharp on offense, well-disciplined on defense. I just think they’ve got it all going right now.”

The Rivermen have done a good job of replenishing their lines this season after graduating several key linemen. Jaylen Noud, Connor Hughes, Drew Williams, Brody Black and Jaxon Diedrich give the Rivermen lots of playmakers at the skill positions, and second-year sophomore quarterback Cooper Hoffman is playing like an All-Stater.

“He looks like he’s just back there kind of playing backyard football, allowing his athleticism to take over,” said coach Hoffman.

“He’s stepped up a lot from last year, said Du-Pec receiver Drew Williams. “You know, he’s taken a big role, and he’s really producing very good.”

Hoffman is completing 69 percent of his passes, 15 for touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s also the second leading rusher in the NUIC. That’s what has Arand concerned.

“I know his brother Hunter was an extremely talented quarterback, but Cooper has the legs to go with his arm strength. I’m probably more concerned about him as a runner than I am as a thrower.”

The conference’s leading rusher is Le-Win’s Gage Dunker. Last year against the Riverman Dunker rushed for three touchdowns and 154 yards.

“They still have Dunker in the backfield, and they’ve got some sophomores and some newer names starting to step up,” said Hoffman.

The players and coaches on both sides are very much looking forward to this head-to-head matchup.

“It’s always fun that big competition games,” said Le-Win offensive and defensive lineman Tanner Kempel “We look forward to these the most until the playoffs. It’s a good (rivalry), it’s pretty heated. It’s always fun.”

“It’s awesome. I’m ready,” said Le-Win running back/defensive back Nick Tippett. “I’m looking for a challenge, and then it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m excited.”

What is Le-Win week like for Du-Pec?

“It’s a lot of just getting mentally prepared and everybody is super excited and nervous for the game,” said Du-Pec offensive and defensive lineman Grant Johnson. “Leading up to it, everybody’s just getting in the zone.”

NOTE: For highlights of this game and many more tune to “Overtime” live at 11 p.m. Friday night on Fox 39 in Rockford.