Du Quoin made the Class 2A state quarterfinals last season and looks to make a postseason run in Class 3A this year.
In the entire 3A field, Du Quoin’s historic program has at least 20 more playoff wins than every other school. The Indians have earned 67 postseason victories.
Du Quoin (7-2) travels to Pana to take on the Panthers at 2 p.m. today.
“I’m happy with our draw, but I would have been happy with anybody,” said Du Quoin coach A.J. Hill. “They are a good team, and if you look at the 3A south bracket, it’s a pretty good conference, too. They’ve got a lot of teams in there. I’m just excited to play someone new, and I feel good about our team and what we’ve been doing. I feel like our team is pretty battle-tested going into the playoffs.”
The Panthers (8-1) finished tied for first place with Carlinville in the South Central Conference. Jacob Beeson has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 850 yards and nine touchdowns.
“He keeps plays alive, and he’ll scramble around and either throw it down field or take off,” Hill said. “He’s a good athlete and really makes them go. We need to stay with our guys even when he gets out of the pocket. We need to make sure we know where he is at all times. We need to get some pressure on him. I don’t know that he’s been pressured a lot this year. We’ve got a pretty good defensive line. We just want to make him uncomfortable. That could be the key to the game.”
The Panthers finished 9-2 in 2016, and this year was basically an unknown. But Pana has enjoyed success after losing a good senior class.
“We lost a lot of seniors from last year, so it was kind of up in the air for this season,” said Pana coach Trevor Higgins. “We have a lot of good athletes, but we also had a lot of guys who hadn’t touched the varsity field because of our 19 seniors last year. We knew our system was successful, but I’m not sure anyone outside of our team would believe we could finish 8-1. It’s a tribute to our 10 seniors this year.”
Hank Stewart, Du Quoin’s quarterback, has thrown for 879 yards with 10 touchdowns. He has rushed for 628 yards with 10 scores as well. The senior missed two games due to injury.
Although Stewart runs the show for the Indians, the squad has plenty of options on the offensive side of the ball. Westly Milam has rushed for 512 yards with 11 touchdowns, and Donovan Cole has 364 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Ashton Smith has caught 22 passes for 380 yards with three touchdowns, and Charley Mercier has just nine receptions, but six of those were touchdown grabs.
“We feel good about giving anybody the ball, and I think that’s an advantage for both of us,” Hill said. “You can’t really key on one person. Obviously, our quarterbacks make both of our offenses go. But in terms of who gets the ball, we’ve got a lot of different options. We feel good about our guys. Hank trusts his guys and knows he can go to different players in different situations.”
The same can be said for Pana, which has had nine different players score touchdowns this season.
“You can’t just focus on Beeson,” Higgins said. “We’ve got a couple running backs that are really good, and our receivers have size and speed. Overall, we have a lot of guys that can score points. We have almost the same amount of rushing and passing yards this year.”
Du Quoin’s only losses this season were close ones on the road at Anna-Jonesboro and Carterville.
“Sometimes losses can be okay for a team to endure and feel that disappointment,” Hill said. “You question whether you prepared as hard as you could have or played as hard as we could have. I’m glad that happened during the regular season. I’m happy with where our team is at. I think we’ve been in every type of game of this year. We are well-seasoned, and these guys are a confident group, and I think they believe they can make some noise in the playoffs.”