DIXON – On a night of fancy passes and bone-crunching hits, a simple run up the middle was the razor-thin margin between the Dixon and Sterling alumni football teams.
The Dukes and Golden Warriors each scored three touchdowns, but Dixon tacked on a 2-point conversion run on the second of its three scores and held on for a 20-18 victory on Friday night in an Alumni Football USA contest at A.C. Bowers Field.
Anthony Dillabough provided that short run up the middle, a conversion that got the Dukes within 18-14 with 9 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the game.
The combination of Adam Love to Evan Hackbarth proved to be too much for the Sterling secondary to handle, as they hooked up on touchdown passes of 65 and 19 yards in the second half.
The first score got the Dukes to within 18-12, then 18-14 with a 2-point conversion.
The second score, with 5:56 remaining, put Dixon ahead for good at 20-18.
"After a while, he was coming in saying, 'I'm open, a lot,'" Love said. "We drew up a couple of play where [offensive coordinator] Nate [Macklin] said, 'Look for Evan.' It worked out."
Hackbarth also got the Dukes on the board with a 53-yard punt return with 4:20 remaining in the second quarter. At that point of the game, Dixon had two touchdowns called back due to holding penalties, and lost another scoring opportunity on a fumble near the Sterling goalline.
"We were shooting ourselves in the foot," Hackbarth said. "We just needed to come together as a team, and make it happen. We had the plays there, and we just had to make them."
Sterling looked like it had the game in control after quarterback Cory Bielema hooked up with wide receiver Logan Wharff on a 95-yard touchdown pass at the 9:55 mark of the fourth quarter. It put the Golden Warriors up 18-6 at the time, but for the third consecutive time, a 2-point conversion try failed.
In a 36-30 victory against Rock Falls on June 20, Sterling was 0-for-6 on conversion attempts.
"I told the guys in the huddle we were going to need that 2-point conversion, and it turned out to be prophetic," Bielema said of the try after Wharff's TD. "We just had trouble getting that in. In the Rock Falls game, as well, we didn't convert on any of those. That's something that's going to come back and bite you.
"It nearly got us last month, and it definitely got us tonight."
Bielema and Anthony Adamson connected on scoring passes of 36 and 10 yards for Sterling's first two scores.
The Golden Warriors had a chance to pull the game out at the end. On a fourth-and-3 from Dixon 8 and just over a minute to play, Bielema missed D.J. Olalde on a pattern that worked just as he had drawn it up. Adamson and Wharff, lined up on the outside, drew the attention of the Dixon safeties, leaving Olalde open on a slant.
Bielema's throw was behind him, however, and Dixon then ran out the clock.
"If I'm in the film room on Monday, I'm telling the quarterback to get his feet set and make that throw," Bielema said. "It's something I could do 99 out a 100 times, but I just rushed it and missed him."
Bielema was chosen as Sterling offensive MVP, while Codtey Albright earned defensive honors.
The Dixon MVPs were Hackbarth on offense and Ryan Seible on defense.
Star of the game: Evan Hackbarth. Dixon, 3 TDs (2 receiving, 1 punt return)
Key performers: Cory Bielema, Sterling, 17-for-25, 318 yards, 3 TDs; Anthony Dillabough, Dixon, 8 rushes, 62 yards