Why Durand/Pecatonica believes it can win the NUIC football title
DURAND — Durand/Pecatonica's only two losses last year came to the two teams that shared the No. 1 ranking in the season's final Class 1A poll.
Now the Rivermen believe they have what it takes to make amends — by running the table in the NUIC. It all begins at East Dubuque on Friday night.
"Oh, we remember those two losses, very well," Du/Pec's returning star quarterback Hunter Hoffman said. "They both left that nasty feeling in our stomachs, and it just made us that much more hungry to get the job done this year. ... Now with this group, our goal is to go undefeated."
Starting the climb
Coach Tyler Hoffman is in his fifth year after coming in at the start of the co-op in 2017, right after Durand and Pecatonica each had trouble fielding full varsity teams. After going 1-8 and 3-6 in his first two seasons, Hoffman got his son, Hunter, in there at quarterback, and the climb began.
Du/Pec went 7-4 in 2019 and 4-2 in the shortened spring season. They led at halftime and lost 28-21 to Aquin in the spring season opener, and then let one slip away, losing 24-21 to Lena-Winslow in the season finale just four months ago.
Now they believe it's time to take another step.
"We were 4-2 last year, but everybody knows who our two losses were to," Du/Pec's star defensive end Jake Anderson said. The senior has verbally committed to Illinois State. "Now, it's going to be different. ... Coach Hoffman really has us ready to do some special things."
Goals have changed
Du/Pec comes into this season with momentum, and another key ingredient to winning.
"The kids really do have a quiet confidence about them," Coach Hoffman said. "Their mindset is really good. ... The expectations are set high."
The expectations are for the Rivermen to fight Lena-Winslow and the rest of the powerful NUIC contenders for the conference crown.
"My biggest thing is going after Lena-Winslow," Anderson said. "They're the team in the conference that you have to knock down. Everybody has picked them to win the conference, wherever you look. ... That kind of stuff gives us a little extra motivation."
The team's QB said he doesn't need any extra motivation to believe in this team — or in his own skills.
"Personally, " Hunter Hoffman said, "I want to set some records."
How they plan to do it
This is a team that is predicated on the passing attack, and Hunter Hoffman is taking aim at a big senior season. He threw for 249.2 yards per game in six contests as a junior, with 21 TDs and just one interception.
He expects to be even better this season.
"There's just a different kind of excitement for this season," Hunter Hoffman said. "And I feel more comfortable; I have a ton of weapons out there.
"I'm ready for a big year."
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The Rivermen passed (1,580 yards) a lot more than they ran (669 yards) last year, and while it may shift a bit, it won't change too much.
Du/Pec takes on Forreston, which went 1-2 in the spring, in the Week 2 home opener. But the biggest game on the schedule for the Rivermen is their Oct. 8 road matchup with Le-Win in Week 7. The Panthers scored on a 3-yard TD run with 12 seconds left to beat Du/Pec 24-21 and win the NUIC North title in the spring season finale on April 24.
Who will lead them
The Rivermen have an unmatched air attack in the NUIC, and they aren't afraid to use it.
Hoffman will utilize four guys more than any other
Trent Hetland — the leading returning receiver with 22 catches for 260 yards and 2 TDs last year — will play running back, wide receiver, tight end and slot receiver; Trent Taylor — the leading returning rusher with 33 rushes for 294 yards and 2 TDs last year — will also play some wide receiver and some running back; and Bryce Fitzanko and Bo Seaton are expected to catch passes.
Defensively, the Rivermen feel they have upgraded the talent level. Anderson, at 6-foot, 240 pounds, is the leader, but middle linebacker Drake Fortson leads a potent linebacking corps that is looking to start off strong by shutting down East Dubuque this Friday night.
East Dubuque went 1-5 in the spring, but Du/Pec will not look past them.
"This group knows. We have to take it one week at a time," Coach Hoffman said. "This week, it's East Dubuque. Then, we just see what happens from there."
Du/Pec 2021 football schedule
(all kickoffs expected at 7 p.m.)
Friday — at East Dubuque
Sep 3 — host Forreston
Sep 10 — at Fulton
Sep 17 — at Eastland-Pearl City
Sep 25 — host Urbana
Oct 1 — host Dakota
Oct 8 — at Lena-Winslow
Oct 15 — host Galena
Oct 22 — at Stockton