One of the beauties of playoff football is taking on a new opponent, possibly with a style you haven’t seen before, and fans can perhaps look forward to a road trip to a strange, faraway land.
On the opposite side of the fence, sometimes teams draw familiar opponents, from the same conference. It’s a repeat game – nothing new here.
That’s the situation for Dixon and Stillman Valley as they prepare for their Class 4A first-round playoff game on Saturday in Stillman Valley. The Cardinals defeated the visiting Dukes 37-12 in the season opener back on Aug. 30.
This will mark the second consecutive season Stillman Valley and Dixon have met twice in the same season. The Cardinals and Dukes also played in the regular season and first round of the 4A playoffs in 2018, with the Cardinals taking both games.
“We know them and they know us,” Dixon coach Dave Smith said. “We’re not going to drive to Timbuktu and play a team we’ve never heard of before or know anything about. Anytime you’re playing Stillman Valley, it’s going to be tough. In the playoffs, there are no weak games. It’s going to be tough.”
Stillman Valley (8-1) had a chance to win an outright Big Northern Conference championship after winning its first eight games, but was beaten at home by Genoa-Kingston 18-7 in Week 9. Stillman Valley, G-K and Byron shared the title.
The Cardinals have gained a reputation for a grind-it-out offense, and showed the Dukes they’re fully capable of playing that type of game. Stillman Valley churned out 318 yards on 61 carries back in the Aug. 30 game, with bruising senior fullback Logan Jennings leading the way with 22 attempts for 105 yards.
Making the Cardinals even more tough to stop that game was the pass-catch combination of juniors Chad Gerig and Joe Kuthe. Gerig was an efficient 4-for-6 that game for 108 yards, including scoring strikes of 32, 43 and 27 yards to Kuthe.
For the season, Gerig has completed 29 of 53 passes for 642 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception.
Gerig’s top target is Kuthe, with 16 receptions for 351 yards and eight scores.
The leading rushers are senior halfback halfback Devin Willis with 65 rushes for 632 yards and one TD; Jennings with 125 carries for 566 yards and 11 scores; and Gerig with 44 attempts for 486 yards and six TDs.
Anchoring the lines is Trae Varney, a 6-foot, 290-pound senior.
“They’re good, obviously – a Big Northern team that’s high quality,” Smith said. “[Stillman Valley head coach Mike Lalor] has great balance on offense. He can run power as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, but at the same time he can run toss sweep, Navy sweep, option – and the quarterback is really good and throws well. They’ve got a fast receiver.
“Defensively, they’re physical up front, the linebackers pursue well, and the defensive backs are coached well. They’ve got a good kicker this year, so they’re good on special teams.”
Stillman Valley is making its 26 appearance in the state playoffs, and has a record of 50-21 in the postseason. The Cardinals have five state championships (1999, 2000, 2003, 2009 and 2013), all under Lalor.
Dixon (5-4) is making its 11th appearance in the playoffs, and its sixth straight under Smith. The Dukes are 7-10 in the postseason, and their deepest penetration has been quarterfinal-round losses in 2006 and 2017.
Senior linebacker Garrett Helfrich is eager for this year’s Dukes to get another chance at the Cardinals.
“We are fired up for this,” Helfrich said. “Definitely the defense is. We feel like we have something to prove here.”
Dixon at Stillman Valley
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stillman Valley H.S.
Radio: 1460 AM