DUPO — Using bruising senior running back Tyler Barnes as a sledgehammer, the Dupo Tigers finally wore down the Freeburg Midgets on Friday to keep their state playoff hopes alive.
Barnes ran the ball 25 times for 134 yards and three touchdowns in Dupo's 44-26 Cahokia Conference victory.
"Coming in this year, he was a guy I went right after and I pointed to," said first-year Dupo coach Tim Nelson. "I said 'We're going to get your butt in shape because we're going to ride you,' and he put in the work. He dropped 22 pounds, and he got himself into the kind of shape where tonight come fourth quarter he was wearing people out."
After a 6-yard TD run by Dupo quarterback Brett Aldridge midway through the third quarter put his team on top for the first time, Barnes took over.
He scored on a 1-yard run and a 23-yard run and in between kept churning out the yardage and first downs.
"If it wasn't for my line I wouldn't be able to get those holes like that," said Barnes, who was asked what it felt like knowing it would take more than a couple of tacklers to bring him down. "It's amazing, I love it. It keeps me going."
"These colleges around here... if they're not paying attention, they need to come see Tyler Barnes because he's just a special kid to watch run the football," Nelson said.
The Dupo defense had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries as the Tigers improved to 4-4 overall and 3-3 in league play.
With Dupo sitting out several starters for half the first quarterfor disciplinary reasons, Freeburg jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Robby Vall scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the opening drive and the Midgets reached the end zone again on their next possession.
A double pass from quarterback Joseph Wolf to receiver Kile Bailey to Keegan Baxmeyer resulted in a 30-yard touchdown. Bailey caught the initial pass, then hit the wide-open Baxmeyer streaking for the end zone.
But after that it was mostly all Dupo as the Tigers relied heavily on their option attack. Aldridge finished with 114 yards and two TDs on 18 carries.
"We spotted them a 14-0 lead because we had to impose some disciplinary actions," Nelson said. "I think our kids learned from our mistakes. Tonight they played to their potential and if they do that they are such a dangerous team.
"They can play with anybody."
Utilizing its quick-strike option attack late in the first quarter, Dupo reeled off a 60-yard drive capped by a 3-yard TD run by Barnes. Kyle LaChance added the two-point conversion run.
Wolf's 13-yard TD pass to Jack Hogan made it 20-8, but Dupo answered again before the first half ended following a Freeburg turnover.
Taking over at their own 12 following Torry Jackson's fumble recovery, the Tiger went 88 yards for another touchdown. Corey Biggs scored on an 8-yard run with 4:36 left in the first half.
Aldridge ran for the two-point conversion, cutting Freeburg's lead to 20-16, then scored again early in the second half to put his team on top for good.
Freeburg (4-4, 3-4) was victimized for two interceptions and two fumbles. The Dupo defense held the Midgets to 14 yards in the second half, allowing only an 81-yard kickoff return by Baxmeyer with 2:23 remaining.
"As you can see with us we're just still not there yet," Freeburg coach Ronnie Stuart said. "We made too many mistakes tonight to handle their run game and they got on top of us. We just couldn't get our defense off the field, then we'd come out offensively and (go) three and out, then you turn the football over and they get it right back."
An interception by Jackson led to a Barnes TD early in the fourth quarter, then a lost fumble led a 23-yard TD run by Barnes.
"I told them all year if you stay behind each other and trust each other, then good things are going to happen," Nelson said.