How one football conference landed four spots in the Class 1A state quarterfinals
Le-Win, Dakota, Forreston and Fulton give the NUIC four teams beyond the second round
ROCKFORD — Lutheran's improbable late-season run came to an end Saturday, but the NUIC's dominance in Class 1A is peaking.
Fulton held down star quarterback Kyng Hughes and hammered Lutheran 28-0 on Saturday, setting in motion a day that would end with four NUIC teams into the Class 1A state quarterfinals for the first time in league history.
"Man, what a conference," Forreston coach Keynon Janicke said after his team upended previously undefeated Chicago Hope, 44-16. "We just settled it, and took it to them."
Like Forreston, Dakota earned an upset in the second round of the 1A playoffs on Saturday, and the two NUIC rivals will now meet up for the second time this year at 2 p.m. next Saturday in the quarterfinals.
No. 1-ranked Lena-Winslow, which steamrolled Oneida ROWVA 76-7 on Saturday, will travel to Fulton for a 1 p.m. kickoff in another 1A quarterfinal full of NUIC teams next Saturday.
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"Get ready," Dakota coach Dan Sheets said after his team knocked off previously unbeaten Ottawa Marquette 30-19. "Next week is going to be even better."
Four out of the eight remaining teams in the 1A state playoffs play from the NUIC, and the league is a lock to have a team in Champaign for the championship game.
Lutheran can't fight through the wind
"Things change this time of year, and it's just tough," said Hughes, the senior who led Lutheran on its late-season surge that ended at the feet of the NUIC's Fulton on Saturday. "They were too tough today."
Hughes had been Lutheran's dual-threat weapon all season long, helping the Crusaders win four of their last six games, including back-to-back, do-or-die games, with his feet and his arm. He threw for 1,300 yards and 14 TDs headed into the second-round matchup with Fulton, and had rushed for 352 yards and 4 scores as well.
He finished Saturday's game 2-for-14 passing for 11 yards, with a pick-six. Much of that was due to the 35 mph gusty winds, but Fulton had a little something to do with it as well.
"We really thought we could do a lot better than this," Hughes said. "This is bad. The wind kind of eliminated the passing game for us, and that was tough."
Luutheran only trailed 6-0 until Fulton got some momentum midway through the third quarter. Led by fullback Lukas Schroeder, who had 135 yards and a TD on 19 carries, Fulton scored on back-to-back drives to take a 20-0 lead. It then slammed the door with an interception return for a TD with just under seven minutes left to play.
Lutheran running back A.J. Moore, who had 524 yards rushing and six TDs coming into the game, had a 44-yard burst late in the first half on the Crusaders' deepest drive (that stalled on Fulton's 31). He finished with 60 yards on nine carries, with one catch for a yard.
"We never felt like we were out of it, and we never laid down," said Moore, a junior. "This is tough to take, but hopefully we're just building."
NUIC keeps on rolling
Four NUIC teams battled their way into the quarterfinals, led by Le-Win's record-setting performance.
The Panthers set an IHSA record for most points scored in a Class 1A playoff game (76), after already having the record for most points scored in a 1A championship game (58). They were led by Gunar Lobdell who had 180 yards rushing and three TDs while Jake Zeal had 97 yards on just seven carries with two touchdowns. Le-Win rushed for 429 yards and nine TDs on the day.
Dakota got a combined 200-plus yards and three TDs from the rotating fullbacks Thomas Bowman and Connor Matthews. While Adrian Arelleno (the NUIC's fifth-leading rusher headed in with 873 yards rushing and 8 TDs) had just 47 yards Saturday, Dakota found other ways.
"Those two fullbacks were just tremendous. At one point we ran it with them on 22 plays in a row," Sheets said. "They're just fighters, all of them. We grinded this one out."
Forreston took a 10-0 team that had a pair of Division-I recruits and slapped them around, dominating from the get-go.
"It wasn't any new wrinkles or anything we haven't done all season; we just did it well today," Janicke said. "We believe in this team, and it showed today. ... This is not a surprise to any of us on this coaching staff, I'll tell you that."
Dakota beat Forreston 34-28 in Week 4 this season, and Le-Win beat Fulton 54-32 in Week 5. But this is practically a new season.
They will all get another shot, and a shot at a 1A state semifinal berth, next weekend.
"Oh, I think everybody will be ready for that one," Sheets said, talking about next week's semis. "This is it, this is what it's all about, right here. Wow."
Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, for more than 20 years at the Register Star, and for nearly 30 years all together.