3 things we learned in the opening week of NIC-10 football in the Rockford area

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

We knew which stars returned — and which ones graduated — coming into the NIC-10 football season. We know the traditional powers. We learned about the new coaches.

But everything was conjecture until the games started.

Here are the three biggest things we learned from Friday's opening night of the NIC-10 football season:

No easy rushing for QBs

NIC-10 teams were slow to embrace the spread offense, but once they did, they shined.

Since 2013, five league quarterbacks have had at least 900 yards rushing in a season: Auburn’s Christian Lopez, Belvidere’s Colton Bahling and Austin Revolinski and Freeport’s Major Dedmond and Deion McShane.

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Dedmond, with 1,892 yards and 27 TDs on the ground in two years, became the first QB to lead the conference in rushing. Revolinski and Bahling both led the league in passing and topped 900 yards on the ground to become the only two players with 3,000 total yards in a season. Even last year, Boylan’s first-year starter Benito Jass averaged 107 yards and two TDs rushing in his three games.

Running, though, suddenly got tough for quarterbacks when the 2021 season opened Friday. Auburn’s Oshavian Dismuke and Hononegah’s Isaac Whisenand were both held to less than a yard per carry — and that was in victories. Dismuke had only 10 yards on 20 rushes in a 20-7 win over Guilford; Whisenand had 9 yards on 10 carries in a 14-6 win over Harlem. Belvidere North’s Mason Weckler (52 yards on 17 carries, 3.1 average) also struggled to find running room in a 14-12 win over East.

Hononegah quarterback Isaac Whisenand, shown handing off to Stuart Hale in Friday's 14-6 win over Harlem, was held to nine yards rushing and Hono gained only 94 yards on 40 carries in the win.

“When teams started running the spread, a lot of it was tied to the option game with designed runs for the quarterback,” Guilford coach Tony Capriotti said. “Now, NIC-10 teams are living more in the RPO world where the option part isn’t keeping it, it’s throwing to the appropriate guy.

“When you are running a lot of RPOs and passing, you don’t want to risk your quarterback getting hit a lot. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Or maybe they are just hanging on to the ball too long and now they’ve just got to survive.”

The top dual-threat QBs in Week 1 were Freeport’s Xzaveon Segner (9 carries for 79 yards, 3-for-9 passing for 100 yards) and Boylan’s Conor Denis (7 carries for 57 yards, 5-for-9 passing for 80 yards).

Jefferson’s Joseph Alvarez had 75 yards rushing and 127 passing, but the J-Hawks trailed Boylan 61-8 at the half so it’s hard to tell what that meant.

Passing numbers down

For five seasons between 2003-07, there were no 1,400-yard passers in the NIC-10. In the next 12 years, there were 24 — including eight over 2,000. Last year, Harlem’s James Cooper Jr. led the state in passing yardage, averaging 305 per game in the shortened six-game season.

Friday, no one threw for even 130 yards and the 10 teams averaged 79 yards passing.

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On the other hand, Guilford, a virtually all-run team the last few years, threw 12 times under new head coach Tony Capriotti. He says the Vikings would have thrown more if their run had set up the pass better.

That leaves only East and Belvidere North as teams that prefer to throw just a couple of times a game.

“Typically every year the defense starts ahead of the offense,” said Capriotti, who predicts passing numbers will soon pick up. “You have to protect everything first before you can pass and make sure the rhythm and timing of the passing game matches up with the protection. A lot of times those nuances early in the season aren’t as smooth as they should be.”

The biggest star in the passing game Friday was star Freeport sophomore receiver Dedric Macon, who caught all three Pretzel receptions for 100 yards, including a 31-yard TD.

Harlem’s defense is for real

Defending NIC-10 champion Harlem returned its entire defense this year. Still, most eyes were on the Huskies graduating record-setting quarterback James Cooper, Jr. What was there to celebrate about a defense that gave up 42, 24 and 42 points in a stretch of three games Harlem won by a total of five points?

That type of thinking gets under coach Bob Moynihan’s skin.

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“You have to look at why they gave up those points,” Moynihan said last week. “Belvidere North got the ball at the 10-yard line the first two times they scored, then our offense gave up a touchdown. That’s 21 points they didn’t give up.

“Our offense was very potent last year, but we did give up some points because of things offensively. We also scored five defensive touchdowns last year. The defense plays well. For some reason, they get no credit.”

Maybe they will now. Harlem lost 14-6 to NIC-10 favorite Hononegah, but held Hono to 94 yards rushing on 40 carries and 9 of 21 passing for 128 yards. That’s only 2.35 yards per carry and 3.6 yards per play.

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge