Durand was a football town. Just take a look back at their history as they made the playoffs 15 times in the first 26 seasons of its existence. Take a drive through Durand and you always saw Bulldogs signs lining the streets. Stop into Pacemaker and you could never miss the Bulldog jerseys hanging against the back wall. While the Bulldogs didn't have a lot of playoff success, they did have a few nice playoff runs. In 1982, they lost in the quarterfinals to eventual state runner-up Walnut 16-13. In 1985, they avenged that loss to Walnut in the quarterfinals, winning 30-6 before coming up short against Arcola at state, 14-6. In 1990, they made another run to the quarterfinals before falling to Sterling Newman, as the Comets went on to win their first state title. Move forward to 1994, and you have another quarterfinal appearance, where they lost to Stockton 20-14, a game that was featured in a negative light on Durand in Sports Illustrated that December. Finally, in 1995 the Bulldogs would bow out in the 2nd round, for what would become their last playoff win, having defeated Polo in the first round 21-6.
Oh, how I remember those days when Durand was good. You always heard about it as the town was always in favor of fall, and the boys would take the field in those blue helmets with Durand underlined as their decal, just like Illinois in the day. My first taste of Durand football came when Dakota was finally able to play the Bulldogs in the first round of the playoffs in 1994, a game Durand would win, but it ignited a rivalry that would play out over the next couple seasons when the two teams were able to meet up in the regular season. I returned in 1995, as Durand played host to Polo and put a stop to the Marco high powered rushing attack. What I didn't know then is that I would witness 2 of the final 3 playoff wins in Bulldog history. Durand would make the playoffs 3 more times under John Schwab, and then Pete Robertson would take control and lead them to the playoffs in 2 of his first 4 seasons as head coach. However, the Bulldogs didn't have much success after that, only reaching the playoffs 1 more time under then coach Matt Kinney, in 2011.
Durand would last host a playoff game in 2004, as they played host to AFC in the first round, losing 14-6. When they made the playoffs 7 seasons later, they ran into a buzzsaw with the reigning state champion Lena-Winslow Panthers, bowing out 49-6 in the first round. In total, the Bulldogs would make the playoffs 19 times in 43 seasons, going 10-19 overall with that one runner-up back in 1985.
Pecatonica never had a whole lot of football success. Even IHSA has a lot of missing numbers, and they had a few years where they were in a co-op with Winnebago. The Indians were never really a threat on the gridiron, but you knew you would get a game from them as they always had athletes. They made the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, losing to Genoa-Kingston and Richmond-Burton in the 1st round, respectively. In 1988, they would return to the playoffs, this time in class 1A, but were run out just as fast by the Orangeville Broncos. You then have to fast forward 12 seasons before the Indians made it back to the playoffs. They would make 4 trips in 5 seasons playing in the newly formed, but short lived, Four Rivers Conference. In 2005, they would host their only playoff game, and get their only playoff victory with a 24-7 win over Galena. They would lose in the next round against conference opponent AFC.
The Indians would finish with 7 trips to the playoffs in 43 seasons, and went 1-7 in their playoff history. Pecatonica's last winning record came in 2009 under then coach Brett Frederick, but they would miss the playoffs due to low playoff points. Times were really rough for Pecatonica in this past decade, as the 2013 season would eventually be canceled when low numbers combined with injuries forced the Indians to fold the season in Eric Bergin's first year as head coach. Bergin was able to get the program standing again, as he guided them to a 3-24 record over the next 3 seasons.
The 2016 season was a rough one for both schools, as they entered the season with low expectations. It was our first year covering the area, and our early predictions had Pecatonica going 0-9, while we had Durand picked to go 2-7. Both teams would endure the season, but neither would gain that win as both programs would finish at 0-9 in their final season.
Shortly after that season was over it was announced that the Du-Pec co-op would go into effect for the 2017 season. With the change, the Tyler Hoffman era as head coach would begin. Hoffman had worked with the co-op of Du-Pec at the junior high level, so bringing him in made perfect sense. While Du-Pec struggled in their first year, with a new program, new coaches, and having nothing established as Du-Pec football, they stumbled through the season. They had some close losses to Madison in week 6 and East Dubuque in week 7, and punctuated their season with the first win in Du-Pec history 20-12 over Galena.
Entering the 2018 season, the Rivermen would have the same schedule from the season before, and would again struggle out of the gates to an 0-5 record. This time they entered those last 4 weeks poised to do more. They would turn those week 6 and week 7 losses to Madison and East Dubuque into wins, and they would collect that win in week 9 over Galena for the 2nd straight year to end the season with a 3-6 record.
Entering the 2019 season you could see the upward trend of the Rivermen and knew this could be the year all the pieces get put together to make the playoffs. Talking with Coach Hoffman at the start of the season you could see the excitement in his face for the new year. His goal was simple; let's make the playoffs. We had them predicted at 5-4, but you knew with a win here or there they could see a 6-3 mark, and possibly a 7-2 record. The regular season ended at 6-3, but it also brought with it a playoff appearance for the Rivermen in just the 3rd season of their co-op. The better part, their first playoff game as a program would take place at home, in Durand. It was the first time in 15 years that Durand had seen playoff football at home.
Looking ahead, after Du-Pec beat Harlan 44-12 to capture their first playoff win in their first playoff game, I caught up with Coach Hoffman on his teams performance, the excitement around the communities, and their next opponent, the Byron Tigers.
Q: How has this season been, not only making your goal of reaching the playoffs, but getting that first playoff win for your program?
A: This group of guys just keeps checking off boxes that they had for goals at the beginning of the season.
Q: What's the excitement level been like for your staff and team?
A: The excitement level has been awesome not only for our kids, but for our student bodies and our communities.
Q: How does Byron look after seeing them on film?
A: Impressive! They are back at full health and that is even more impressive. Obviously, I would compare them to Le-Win. I hold Sean (Ormiston) in high regards so they are not going to run over you like he does, but they will run away from you.
Q: In regards to Byron, who do you need to contain the most, or who sticks out the most to you?
A: They are a good all around team. Obviously, (Tyler) Elsbury, (Isaac) Stickler, and (Drake) Snodgrass are good. But, their QB (Ben Carlson), the other (Dayne) Snodgrass, etc. - can all play ball.
Q: What are your 3 keys to victory?
A: Special teams play, our passing game needs to be on point, and execute and be physical on defense.
The Rivermen are 7-3 heading into their round 2 matchup, and according to CalPreps they are ranked 7th of the remaining 16 teams. They travel to Byron to take on the reigning Class 3A runner-up. The Tigers are a team that many feel have a shot at a state title, and they come in ranked as the 2nd best team in that same ranking. Byron's only loss came to Class 4A state ranked Stillman Valley back in week 2, 18-16. The odds are stacked against the Rivermen as they will enter as 2 touchdown underdogs, but you never know what can happen come playoff time. Either way it shakes out, it has been great to see both Durand and Pecatonica come to life this fall with the excitement of a winning football team, and the extra games in November that all teams hope for.
I would like to thank head coach Tyler Hoffman for taking the time to answer my questions as he prepares for this round 2 game. Good luck Rivermen, and go get those Tigers!