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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Duncan returns to finals after last season's loss

Duncan is no stranger to the big stage. For the second-consecutive season, No. 9 Duncan (2-1) have reached the finals of the interhall football playoffs at Notre Dame Stadium.

That game was a hard-fought 7-6 defeat at the hands of Stanford. This year, now facing undefeated No. 2 Dillon (3-0), the Highlanders are hoping to finally bring home a championship victory for their residence hall.

Despite being seeded ninth for the playoffs, Duncan has proven itself to be a dominant team throughout the season. The only blemish on its record being a 13-0 loss to Morrissey early in the season, the Highlanders have managed numerous impressive wins, especially in the playoffs. To earn a spot at the stadium, Duncan defeated No. 1 Stanford 20-14 in the quarterfinals by a dominant offensive performance, and in the semifinals pushed past No. 4 Alumni by a score of 7-6.

The Highlanders are excited by the prospect of facing yet another higher-ranked opponent in a crucial game. The Big Red have had an impressive season of their own, and Duncan sophomore captain and lineman Kyle Tomshack is looking forward to another challenge and a chance for his team to prove itself.

“Dillon’s a great team, we’ve gotten a chance to see them play a couple of times, and I’m looking forward to this game,” he said. “We’re both mainly running offenses, so it should be a nice fun game in the trenches.”

Games in the trenches have tended to favor the Highlanders this season. For most of the year, Duncan has found itself able to control the line of scrimmage, making way for junior running back Micah Rensch and other ball carriers on offense, and hampering their opponent’s rushing attack while on defense.

Senior quarterback Matthew Kase, who has proven very effective this year as both a rusher and a passer, cited the offensive line as one of the main reasons the Highlanders have continued to win.

“I think we’ve won every game at the line of scrimmage so far, so hats off to the O-line this year,” Kase said. “Whether we’re running the ball up the middle or we’re spreading it out and throwing the ball, they’ve done a really good job no matter what we’re doing on offense.”

The Highlanders’ strong defensive play is another important factor that has allowed Duncan to secure a spot in the championship game, Kase said. 

“On defense, I think the most we’ve given up [per game] is two touchdowns all year, and that’s really big in interhall; they’re pretty quick games,” Kase said. “It’s a little bit more physical of a game, so not giving up a lot of points has helped us win games.”

That defense has been led by senior defensive back Declan Zidar, who has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks this year. In the Stanford game alone, he came away with two game-changing interceptions, one which would have been a touchdown return of over 100 yards if not for a penalty. Overall, turnovers have been instrumental to Duncan’s success on that side of the ball.

“Forcing turnovers is huge,” Zidar said. “Field position is big in interhall football because it’s hard to put together long drives when you don’t get to practice for very long … [it’s been] a collective effort, everyone flying to the ball and that’s been the key to our success.”

Senior coach Hodges Markwalter attributes the Highlanders’ performance this season to a strong senior class, but also to the many talented underclassmen who have filled important roles when needed.

“I think we have a core group of seniors who have really worked to pioneer our effort towards the stadium, but additionally we’ve had some younger talent that’s really stepped up, some skill players as well filling in for spots we lost last year,” Markwalter said. “It’s been really fun to see us go from winning zero [games] my freshman year to making the stadium our senior year.”

For Duncan, getting this far has been about more than just talent. As any of the players could attest, the team has a strong bond and enjoys working together. The motivation to take care of last year’s unfinished business hasn’t hurt either.

“I just think we love to have fun,” he said. “We’re just a group of athletes on the field at the end of the day, and we’re just going out there and playing football for the last couple times of our lives. It’s been a really fun ride, and I know that us and the rest of the seniors want to finish it off with a win.”

To Tomshack, the result of the championship game will not be the ultimate measure for the kind of team the Highlanders are.

“This has been a great season for Duncan football,” Tomshack said. “Guys have really committed and come together and played well. No matter what happens on Sunday, I’m very proud of this team.”