MENDOTA – The last 10 times the Dixon Dukes have taken the field, whether it was at A.C. Bowers Field or on the road at Rockford Christian, Woodstock, Genoa-Kingston or North Boone, that field was natural grass.
On Saturday, the Dukes will do something they have not done since back in Week 1: play on artificial turf.
So to prepare, the Dukes went back to where the season began, practicing twice this week on the artificial surface at Mendota in order to get a feel for it before facing Chicago Raby in Saturday’s Class 4A quarterfinal at Hanson Stadium.
“Turf is a lot faster, but to me, it’s just another field to play on,” Dukes wide receiver Tyler Christiansen said. “It takes just a change from last week having [everything] all muddy and wet to this week, we don’t know the conditions other than the field.”
The Dukes (10-1) won the last time they played on turf, a 69-0 win over the Trojans to open the season as Arthur Cox gained 217 yards on 13 carries.
“We play well on turf,” Dixon coach Dave Smith said. “We’re fast. So we just needed to get the experience of getting back on it. The way we run routes and defensively, all the angles change with the speed, so we’ve got to get used to the angles.”
After finding out where they would be playing the quarterfinal, Dixon’s administration called Mendota to see if the Dukes could use the field for practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Mendota, having finished 1-8, was not preparing for a playoff game itself, and said yes, throwing the gates of the stadium open to their Big Northern Conference rival to make the 30-mile trip down Highway 52 for a workout.
Dixon did the same thing last year, practicing at Mendota to get used to the turf before a first-round game against Chicago South Shore at Gately Stadium.
It’s a surface that could play to Dixon’s advantage, helping an already fast team lean on its speed even more.
“I feel like turf just makes me faster,” Cox said. “I’m kind of used to turf. I’ve played on it plenty of times, like at Westwood, so I don’t think I’m going to get affected by it.”
Hanson Stadium is not exactly like what the Dukes saw at Mendota in practice and in Week 1. The surface at Hanson Stadium is older Astroturf, a piece of carpet and some padding on top of concrete, unlike the spongier, more forgiving field turf at Mendota.
Cox will be able to use his speed, but knows from watching film on Raby that the Raiders have plenty of speed as well, so if he breaks into open field on a run, he can’t let off the gas pedal.
“They chased down a few of Richmond-Burton [runs] that should have been touchdowns,” Cox said. “They chased them down and stopped them.”
Raby (10-1) has allowed just 144 points this year, and 42 of those came in the Raiders’ only loss, a 42-28 setback to 11-0 and Class 5A No. 1 Chicago Phillips. Raby’s defense has allowed a combined 102 points in the other 10 games while putting up four shutouts, and is paced by senior linebacker Donovan Baldwin’s 96 tackles, 17 of them for a loss.
“The defense has really good speed,” Smith said. “The middle linebacker is as good as we’ve ever seen. One of the corners is looking at Northern [Illinois]. He’s got 300-pounders on the line, so he’s got good edge pressure.”
In order to move the ball, Smith said that the Dukes will have to play the way they’ve been playing, stay within the system, and stay away from turnovers.
Raby’s offense is also strong, averaging more than 40 points per game, including a 66-point outburst against Chicago Vocational. Quarterback Tyshun Turnipseed has completed 65 of 128 passes this year for 1,179 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also rushed 81 times for 428 yards to augment the ground game led by Danquis Smith’s 180 carries for 1,569 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Christiansen said that in Chicago Raby, the Dukes are expecting “a tough fight all the way through, all four quarters.”
Class 4A quarterfinal
Dixon vs. Chicago Raby
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hanson Stadium, Chicago
Twitter: @Eric_Ingles and @CodyCutter35
To get to Hanson Stadium: Take I-88 east until it turns into I-290 (Eisenhower). Take exit 23B, Central Ave. Turn left (north) and go 3.7 miles. The stadium will be on the right.