Opening up conference play is always an exciting time. When one team is surprising the conference, while the other one is not meeting expectations, it can lead to an intriguing dialogue. That is exactly what we had on our hands Friday night as the Du-Pec Rivermen came into Dakota with a 2-0 record, while Dakota entered at 0-2.
Du-Pec came in with their 5 wide passing attack, while Dakota looked like a team of yesteryear, going back to the Jerry Lano days of their 3 yards and a cloud of dust offense, otherwise known as the wing T. This game would come down to which offense could get things going, which defense could adjust the best and put the most pressure on the offense, and who was going to win the line of scrimmage.
Opening up the game Dakota was starting a drive, but were stalled and forced to punt after gaining just 17 yards on 6 plays. An excellent punt by Quinton Heilemeier pinned the Rivermen deep in their own territory. A sack on their first play, followed by a run for a yard loss, had the Rivermen facing a 3rd and 19 from their own 4 yard line. The next play was an incomplete pass, forcing the Rivermen to punt. Dakota would quickly go 3 and out, punting the ball right back to the Rivermen. Du-Pec would begin moving the ball after starting at their own 27 yard line, and after a 14 yard pass from Hunter Hoffman to Gabe Howard, and another connection from Hoffman to Grant McCallips for 26 yards, the Rivermen were in Indian territory. The Dakota defense would stiffen however, and force Du-Pec into a turnover on downs at the Dakota 31 yard line.
The Indians would finally get to work, and do so in the way that looked like the Dakota of old, running an old school wing T, running dives, leads, and midline runs. After a couple Evan Riggle runs, Josh Clark would pull a midline or veer type play, read the end, and kept the ball to himself up the right sideline for a 22 yard gain that moved the Indians into Rivermen territory. As the clock ran out to end the 1st quarter at a 0-0 tie, they would flip the field, and the Indians would head to the north end zone. Another big run by Clark, this time for 16 yards, would get the Indians into the red zone. From there, it was Riggle time, as he churned out 3 yards, 4 yards, and 3 yard runs for a 1st down. Finally, down to the 3 yard line, it was Kade Wales who would get the Indians on the board with 7:40 left in the half. The 2 point try would fail, but the Indians had the lead, 6-0.
Du-Pec would not waste time to respond. Starting from their own 35 yard line after the Dakota kickoff went out of bounds, Hoffman would hit Tre Stifter on a 17 yard pass. He would follow that up with a 13 yard strike to Howard. An interception by Dakota would be negated by a roughing the passer penalty against the Indians. On the very next play, Hoffman connected with Howard for a 27 yard TD pass. The extra point try was good, and the Rivermen held a 7-6 lead that they would take into the half.
In the second half, Dakota would take over. Getting a punt return by Caden Moyer that would start the Indians off at midfield, it was back to the ground behind Riggle and Clark. Chewing almost 6 minutes off the clock, it was Clark who would put the Indians into the lead on a 1 yard dive. Riggle would add the 2 point conversion to put Dakota up 14-7 with 4:36 left in the 3rd quarter. Just a minute later, Clark would intercept a Hoffman pass, and the Indians would go right back to work. The interception return was good for 37 yards, then a holding penalty was added on, giving Dakota a 1st and 10 at the Du-Pec 13. A Riggle 5 yard run was followed by a Heilemeier 5 yard run, setting Dakota up with a 1st and goal at the 3. Riggle would get the ball to the 1, and Clark would finish it off with another 1 yard TD run. The 2 point conversion was good again, and Dakota was up 22-7 with 1:26 left in the 3rd quarter, a lead they would take into the 4th quarter.
Du-Pec was back on the drive, however, finally getting the ground game going a bit behind the running of Trenton Taylor. The sophomore back ripped off a 6 yard run, followed by an 18 yard run, and then an 8 yard burst. That is when Hoffman hit Stifter on a post route for a 24 yard TD pass. The 2 point try failed, as the Rivermen trailed 22-13 with 9:56 left in the game.
Dakota would get the ball at their own 33 yard line and go to work on the ground again. They would keep pounding the ball with Riggle and Clark in a classic display of dive, lead, dive, midline. Finally, on a dive right up the heart of the Rivermen, Riggle busted a 31 yard dagger into the endzone. The 2 point try would fail, but after chewing up over 6 minutes off the clock, Dakota had the lead 28-13 with 3:09 left in the game.
Opening up the run game behind Taylor, the Rivermen were on the move again. Hoffman would connect with Stifter along the left sideline, as Stifter was hit as soon as he caught the ball, but hung on for a 29 yard gain. Hoffman would connect on 2 more passes to Howard, and then found Kelton Gann for an 8 yard TD pass. The extra point was good as the Rivermen cut the lead to 28-20 with a 1:17 left in the game. A failed onside kick would end the Rivermen's chances, as Dakota took 2 kneel downs to run out the clock.
With the win, Dakota improves to 1-2 on the season. They will face Lena-Winslow (3-0) next week in Lena. Du-Pec falls to 2-1, and will host Orangeville next week.
For the night, Dakota out gained the Rivermen 250 yards to 232 yards. Dakota finished with 236 yards rushing and 14 yards passing. The Indian ground attack was led by Evan Riggle, who had 25 carries for 133 yards and 1 TD. Josh Clark was 1-7 passing for 14 yards, but had 16 carries for 78 yards and 2 TD, and he had the huge interception on defense.
The Rivermen had 232 yards of total offense, finishing with 173 yards passing and 59 yards rushing. They were led by Hunter Hoffman, who went 13-22 passing for 173 yards and 3 TD's. Gabe Howard led the team in receptions, hauling in 5 passes for 61 yards and 1 TD. Tre Stifter had 3 receptions for 70 yards and 1 TD. Trenton Taylor would finish his night with 71 yards on 16 attempts rushing the ball.