The locker rooms were separated by a dozen miles. The moods were worlds apart.
At about 10 p.m. Friday, a solemn Rock Falls football team digested its 56-43 loss in Byron.
"Coach [Scott] Berge said it perfectly," Rock Falls senior Lucas Newburgh said. "The result made him want to go into hours of tears. It's one of those games that we let get away from us, and we knew it. And we knew we needed that game. It's hard to come back from."
About half an hour prior, Winnebago pulled off what many considered a mondo Big Northern West upset, beating Rockford Lutheran 28-22. Thanks to guys like Nolan Peterson stepping up, the Indians slipped into the driver's seat in the divisional race.
The key now, Winnebago (4-0, 2-0 BNC West) head coach Mark Helm said, is not letting off the accelerator, despite Rock Falls' 1-3 record overall and its 0-2 mark in the division.
"Our league is set up so it makes you refocus," he said. "You know everybody's good, and you're going to be in for a battle. This is just another week with a different opponent. They've got a very different way of beating you, but it can beat you."
The smart money says the Rockets would like to turn Friday's matchup at Hinders Field into a track meet, ripping off big-gainers, predominantly with the passing game. Jacob Mammosser leads the Sauk Valley with 955 passing yards, 202 more than his closest competition, Dixon's JD Gieson.
"They're a unique team," Helm said. "But even though it's a different style of offense, the concept stays the same. You limit the big plays and make them march the field. Don't give up the big one."
But Newburgh says there's been a lot of chatter in the Rock Falls locker room about giving Winnebago a slow and painful death, courtesy of the punishing running style of Brendon LeBarron. The senior back has 329 yards on 72 carries this season and went over the 100-yard mark last Friday.
Whereas the Indians upended Lutheran by pinning James Robinson between the hashmarks, leading to several turnovers, that's where LeBarron makes a lot of his hay.
"We've talked about that this whole week, focusing on the inside game and running the ball a lot," Newburgh said. "I really think we're going to throw them a wrench. They're going to be expecting a lot of pass, and LeBarron's going to have a great game. He's an incredible athlete."
When Berge calls something to get to the edge, Newburgh gets giddy. He loves to pull from his left guard position.
"I kind of get butterflies in my stomach, because I know I'm going to be making contact with the end or the linebacker," Newburgh said. "I find myself looking over to Coach Berge and telling him to call power right or counter right, so I can pull."
Winnebago won last year's matchup 61-26 on its home field. This year's incarnation looks a little different than it did at the season's outset, with standout Fred Mosby injured for the rest of his senior season. But Michael Pate (386 yards on 43 carries) and Sean Ward (45-288) have picked up the slack nicely.
And Peterson (32-210) has taken the newfound carries and run with them.
"He's always kind of been overshadowed," Helm said.
Ryan Swigert isn't afforded nearly as many opportunities to wing it as Mammosser, but is 21-for-42 for 358 yards, forcing the Rockets to be aware of his arm.
One thing they're quite aware of is the circumstances following Friday's loss in Byron. In order to clinch a playoff berth at 6-3, they'd need to run the table. To be eligible, they must beat either Winnebago on Friday or Stillman Valley next week.
"We're going to have to steal one of those games, and I think we're definitely capable," Newburgh said. "I see Winnebago as a must-win game, and I can't see why we can't beat them."