The start of the 2018 campaign for the Dakota Indians and the Forreston Cardinals couldn’t be any more similar to that of 2017. Dakota has raced out to a 2-0 start with convincing victories over Galena and AFC, while Forreston is 1-1 after a defeat at the hands of the defending state champion and #1 team in the state, the Lena-Winslow Panthers.
Friday night will see the Indians as the underdog, as Forreston comes into the game ranked #9 in the state, while Dakota has the #10 ranking. Rankings this time of year can be meaningless as coach Free stated, “Their (Forreston) track record has earned that ranking and we need to prove ours because we haven’t really beat anyone to be able to jump into the top ten like that”.
Forreston has won the last three meetings between the two teams by a combined score of 68-0. The Indians know that this game will be crucial to the teams confidence moving forward. “This game is huge for our confidence. We absolutely have the talent to win this game, but I think we need to mentally believe it. Forreston and Lena have been renting space in our head the last few seasons, so we need to have a few things go right early and be able to overcome adversity. This is huge for the program because if we want to be seen as an annual contender we need to find a way against these teams and that falls on me. I have to find a way to better prepare the kids mentally this week to play with the big boys of the conference," Free added.
One difference from last year to this year is the hit that graduation put on the Cardinals. However, the Cardinals have plenty of weapons returning from last years squad with Evan Kelsey, Ethan Mulder, and an anchor in Mitchell Heinz. Dakota has a majority of their weapons returning, and none more important offensively than Trey Engelbrecht, as he has got off to a slow start, but Dakota knows he will need to have a big game this week. “Trey, numbers wise, has been off to a slow start and it’s not his fault. We’re still trying to find the right mix of linemen because of injury or ineffectiveness so far in weeks 1 and 2. We have to just keep developing our guys up front. I’m not as worried because he had three long runs called back on dumb holding penalties against Galena and our defense gave the offense a short field all night against AFC, so the yards just weren’t going to be there. Teams are going to take Trey away from us so having Josh, Aden, Kloster, and Carter all have big games so far this year is encouraging because last year it was Trey or no one. I’m going to put a lot on our offensive line to get Trey going this week, but we absolutely don’t need him to take over to win. We can win with our balance, too. We are more diverse on offense this year compared to the first two years of my tenure”, said coach Free.
Dakota knows that Friday night will come down to execution on the defensive side of the ball if the Indians hope to come away with a win. Dakota coach Joe Free explained just how important his defensive unit is in this matchup, “We have to keep playing an elite level of defense. We haven’t played defense like this since 2015. I know our opponents aren’t the strongest so far, but the dominance we’ve shown is us doing even more than what we need to do. So, our defense has to keep their energy and mojo working Friday night. Also, I think Josh Clark keeping things balanced with his arms and legs is a big factor on Friday. I said at the start of the year, he’s our X factor and he’s proven it so far, but now the real test begins against a quality opponent”.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm from Dakota High School. The game can be heard on 102.1.