FOOTBALL

What to watch as Forreston and Dakota again meet in the IHSA football quarterfinals

Jay Taft
Rockford Register Star
Dakota's Kaidyn Niedermeier throws a pass on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, during practice in Dakota. Niedermeier has helped Dakota soar into the state quarterfinals, where they will take on rival Forreston this weekend.

Rematches are a dime a dozen these days. But not this kind.

Forreston hosts Dakota at 2 p.m. Saturday in a Class 1A state quarterfinal game between two very familiar foes.

Not only are these two of the top dogs out of the NUIC nearly every year, but they met last in the playoffs in the 2018 quarterfinals, in a game Forreston won by two when a 2-point conversion pass drifted out of bounds with 1:30 left to play.

The conference foes also went toe-to-toe in a classic showdown earlier this season, as Dakota's all-time leading passer Kaidyn Niedermeier hit fullback Thomas Bowman in stride with a pass with 19 seconds left on the clock, and Bowman plowed into the end zone for the game-winner.

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Now, it's time for the rematch of rematches.

"All we've heard ever since the last time we beat them earlier this year was that we had no business beating them," Niedermeier said. "Now we get to show that we did. ... And we get to make up for the last time we saw them in the playoffs."

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Here's how it all sets the table for this Saturday's rematch:

Forreston has momentum

Forreston head coach Keynon Janicke, shown watching as his team plays out the end of its 38-8 loss to Lena-Winslow in the Class 1A second-round playoff game in Forreston on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, has his squad back into the state quarterfinals this postseason.

Forreston has won five of its last seven, losing only to Fulton and Lena-Winslow, two teams that play each other in another 1A quarterfinal matchup of NUIC teams.

In this one, Forreston has won three of four over Dakota in the playoffs: Forreston won 14-6 in the first round in 1988; Dakota won 16-9 in the quarters in 2011; Forreston won 8-0 in the first round in 2005; and Forreston won by two in 2018 in the quarters.

And Forreston is 5-4 in state quarterfinal games.

Right now, however, they are feeding off the underdog role. Both Forreston and Dakota are two of the last seven four-loss teams remaining in the state.

"We believe in this team, but not a lot of other people believe in us," Forreston coach Keynon Janicke said. "We're just taking over games these days. ... This is going to be a lot of fun."

Johnny Kobler, a converted lineman who has turned into Forreston's biggest weapon this year, now leads the NUIC in rushing with 1,296 yards and 21 TDs. Kobler rushed for a career-high 210 yards but Dakota still beat Forreston 34-28 back on Sept. 16. Forreston's Quinten Frederick also had a career-high 15 tackles in that one, and he now leads the team with 61 tackles.

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Forreston knocked off Dakota 22-20 the last time either team made it this far in the playoffs, four years ago. Forreston beat another conference rival, Le-Win, in the semis the next weekend, and went on to claim its third 1A state championship in a five-year span that year.

Who will get the momentum this time headed into a potential semifinal showdown with Le-Win again?

"We are really confident it's going to be us," Kobler said. "We believe we are supposed to be here, and we believe we can win this one.

"Now, we're right where we want to be."

Kaleb Sanders has also rushed for 857 yards and 12 TDs for Forreston, and the Cardinals have three other backs with over 336 yards rushing, showing their depth almost every week. QB Brock Smith hasn't aired it out like Dakota's Niedermeier has, but has been efficient when needed, throwing for 182 yards with 2 picks and 3 touchdowns.

Dakota is brimming with confidence

Dakota quarterback Josh Clark rolls out to pass during the first quarter of the Round 3 Playoff game in Forreston on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Forreston won the game 22-20.

Dakota lost to Fulton 48-26 in the regular-season finale, but other than that, it has outscored its last four foes 152-30. Led by Niedermeier, who has thrown for 1,126 yards and a Dakota-record 13 TDs, this is one of the most balanced teams in the entire area.

"The guys are ready. There's a different feel to everything right now. They believe in what they're doing," said Dakota coach Dan Sheets, who promised his team he would get his hair dyed blonde if they made it to the quarterfinals. And he did. "There is certainly a different element of excitement to this one. This is such a big game for these guys, for this town, every year, every time. And to get to do it now? It's amazing."

Dakota is 4-1 in quarterfinal games, with the lone loss coming to Forreston nearly four years ago to the day that they will play on Saturday. And Dakota has just been taking over games in its latest stretch, as well.

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Even last week, when the passing game mustered only 16 yards and no touchdowns in the windy, rainy conditions, and one of the conference leaders in rushing Adrian Arellano (946 yards and 9 TDs) had just 47 yards, Dakota still dominated 30-19. It used the two fullbacks, Thomas Bowman and Connor Matthews, extensively, at one point on 22 plays in a row. They combined for over 200 yards rushing and three TDs, and Ottawa Marquette's offense spent most of the day on the sidelines watching the game.

"That was such a blast. No one believed it," Niedermeier said. "When we want to throw it, we can. But we showed last week, when we have to run it, boy we can do that, too. And beat you with it."

The two teams will now meet up to see who could get the right to possibly try and knock off unbeaten and defending 1A state champ Le-Win, which meets Fulton in another quarterfinal.

"We are just playing very physical these days. It's not any wrinkles, or anything different, it's just us doing what we do," Forreston's Janicke said. "But doing it very well. We are so excited for this (next) game."

His adversary on the other side is as well.

"There's no doubt, we're hungry for more," Dakota's Sheets added. "I'm not ready for this to be over; I told them that."

Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at jtaft@rrstar.com and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaftSign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, for more than 22 years at the Register Star, and for nearly 30 years all together.