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7 p.m. kickoff Friday: It's rivalry time for Du Quoin and Pinckneyville

  • Quarterback David Lee will step up for the Indians Friday night against the Panthers.

    Quarterback David Lee will step up for the Indians Friday night against the Panthers.
    Doug Daniels photo

  • Trey Moll is locked and loaded for the battle with Du Quoin.

    Trey Moll is locked and loaded for the battle with Du Quoin.
    Dan Herbst photo

By Geary Deniston
Contributing writer
updated: 9/24/2021 1:59 PM

Southern Illinois prep sports is all about county rivalries. Like Carbondale vs. Murphysboro, or Benton vs. West Frankfort.

One of the most intense is Du Quoin and Pinckneyville.

"Pinckneyville is always a physical football team and they always play hard against us and I expect no different this year because Coach (Logan) Spain will have them prepared," said Du Quoin Coach Derek Beard.

"It's always good to be home in front of your home crowd," he added. "We have a lot of people involved in football on Friday night. We're fortunate we have a lot of students involved in football games and not just on the team. We've got cheerleaders and dancers and Indian Heads -- our student section."

This week that rivalry will be renewed for the 90th time in football, when the new-look Pinckneyville Panthers (0-4) invade Van Metre Field to play one of the most revered football programs in Illinois, the Du Quoin Indians (2-2).

Beard says it is important that the coaches emphasize to the players this is just another game, and not get overly hyped by the rivalry aspect.

"As a coach it's another week, so we'll just line up and play the game," Beard said. "We try to treat each game the same. We don't do anything special any week of the season. We prepare and we respect the opponent whether they are undefeated or haven't won a game yet. We preach that to our kids just to be prepared to play the game."

The Indians have a big edge in the series with 64 wins, 23 losses and two ties. They have won the last eight meetings by a combined margin of 295-79, including lopsided wins the past four meetings by the scores of 45-9 (2019), 54-6 (2018), 57-7 (2017) and 42-6 (2016).

The last time the Panthers beat the Indians was in 2011 when Pinckneyville won at Van Meter Field, 40-22. It was also the last season the Panthers earned a playoff berth, and went as far as the 2A quarterfinals.

The Indians come into the game with a 2-2 record and a 0-1 record in the SIRR Mississippi after losing a heart-breaker last week to Carterville on the road, 28-26.

Beard took over for A.J. Hill in 2019 posting a 9-2 record and leading the team to its fifth straight playoff appearance, but during the COVID-19 spring season earlier in the year the Indians finished with a 2-4 record.

Beard has been with the Du Quoin athletic program for many years, including currently as athletic director so he knows the intensity of the rivalry as does his coaching opponent this week.

"Coach Spain wanted to be a head coach and I'm happy for him that got that opportunity," Beard said. "I know him well. I was coaching here when he played here."

Spain took over the Panthers football program during the summer after Pinckneyville suspended its varsity football team when the roster fell to 23 players last spring.

Spain has a long football pedigree, but not with Pinckneyville. Spain is a Du Quoin native -- he was a linebacker for the Indians from 2008 to 2011. In fact, Spain played on the team that lost to Pinckneyville.

"Yeh, losing to Pinckneyville my senior year is something you don't forget if you are from Du Quoin," Spain said. "Over the years Pinckneyville has gotten the upper hand in basketball and Du Quoin in football. What we're trying to do is to make Pinckneyville more competitive in football.

"Our focus is to get better every day with our first goal being to be competitive in our conference."

Three years after graduation he returned to his alma mater to join the staff of the immortal Hall of Fame football coach Al Martin. He continued on the staff of Hill and was on Beard's first staff in 2019 completing his 10-year tenure as an active Indian player and coach.

"I started out helping out with the freshmen and then I was the JV defensive coordinator," Spain said. "On varsity I coached the receivers and then I took over as the JV head coach and did the strength and conditioning. So a little bit all over the place at all three levels on the defensive and offensive side of the ball. It gave me a lot of good experience."

Spain and the Panthers lost the first two weeks of the season to forfeits, thanks to COVID-19 -- a home game against Red Bud and an away game at West Frankfort.

"The large majority of our football team hasn't played football before and then we got shut down the Tuesday before our first game," Spain said.

But even before his new team finally took the field in Week 3 Spain had already made his presence known, recruiting 16 more varsity players and adding another 12 freshmen for a total of 51 for his first team.

"It's a big improvement," Spain said. "Our goal is to keep getting kids to come out and hopefully have some success at the lower levels so that will translate to success on the varsity level in the future."

In Week 3 the Panthers had the misfortune of taking on the mighty Benton Rangers at Tabor Field. While the Panthers actually played better than the score indicates, it was still a 53-0 loss.

"Opening up with Benton was a tough draw," Spain said. "Quarterback Trey Moll was one of the very few seniors who played in the spring (the Panthers fielded a JV squad). He's one of those guys who are a natural at the position.

"It really stuck out to me this summer when we were doing 7-on-7 that he had a real live arm and makes some throws you just can't teach. He's still learning, but the last two weeks he's played a pretty clean brand of football. We feel pretty good about our playmakers, but we just have to find ways to punch it in a little bit more."

Last week was the home opener. Pinckneyville showed improvement, but still lost 46-20 to Olney Richland County.

This week will be Pinckneyville's first conference game.

"This is not the first time I will be walking into Van Metre Field as the opposing team," Spain said, who coached the JV squad in the spring.

"Even though I've been there a couple of times I'm really looking forward to Friday. Once we walk out with all the fans and the band and everything that goes with game night it will bring back a lot of memories."