DU QUOIN — Hank Stewart’s development as a quarterback continued its positive trend Friday night, giving Du Quoin a nice springboard into what it hopes will be a long postseason run.
The senior threw for 167 yards and ran for another 66, accounting for three touchdowns as the Indians finally put away spunky Murphysboro 41-21 in each team’s regular season finale at Van Metre Field.
Stewart started slow, hitting just 1 of his first eight passes and missing a spate of open men, but connected on 10 of his last 11. Included were a pair of touchdown passes on which his plentiful athletic gifts were on full display.
To finish off a nice two-minute drive right before halftime, Stewart eluded a pass rusher and drilled a 7-yard scoring strike to Charley Mercier with 20.5 seconds left to give Du Quoin (7-2) a 21-13 halftime lead.
Late in the third quarter, Stewart rolled right, pulled up near his team’s bench and found Donovan Cole with an accurate throw across his body. Cole did the rest, bowling over a tackler at the goal line for a 20-yard touchdown that supplied the Indians a 35-21 advantage.
“We knew we were going to have to pass the ball to open them up,” Du Quoin coach A.J. Hill said. “Hank has done a tremendous job all year making plays, no matter whether we ask him to be under center or in the (shot)gun.
“For him to come out and have a year like he’s had this year is special.”
Stewart, who was injured in the team’s first game last year, started the scoring with a 36-yard run on a read-option play less than four minutes into the game. Unlike last week, when the Indians basically ended the game’s competitive phase before halftime against overmatched Nashville, they had to sweat for 3 ½ quarters.
The Red Devils (2-7) didn’t look like a team that will miss the playoffs. They never led, but controlled the ball for more than 16 minutes in the first half with their misdirection-based Wing-T attack.
Sophomore Jake Hoppenstadt ran for 99 yards, including a 61-yard burst in the third quarter. That set up Zane Caraway’s second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge that drew Murphysboro within 27-21 at the 5:37 mark.
But the Red Devils didn’t get another first down after that as Du Quoin finally won consistently at the line of scrimmage. A 2-yard scoring run by Donovan McBride with 4:05 remaining in the game sealed the verdict.
The Indians find out Saturday night who and when they play in the playoffs’ first round. They could wind up in either Class 2A or 3A.
“I like where we’re at,” Hill said of his team. “This wasn’t just a tuneup game, it was a good game for us. It’s going to allow us to see some holes that we have to correct.