Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Woodlan's Justin Durkes throws the ball to a teammate during the Woodlan vs. South Adams football game at Woodlan High School on Friday.
Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Justin Durkes, in his third year as Woodlan’s starting quarterback, is 8-2 in playoff games as the 10-2 Warriors prepare to face 8-4 North Newton in Friday’s Class 2A regional final.
Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am
Warriors focusing in
Woodlan senior QB promoting 'hungry for more' attitude
JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette
With he and his classmates long known around the halls at Woodlan for making jokes and playing games, knowing at most three games remain in his high school career, Justin Durkes has shifted his focus to the games on the gridiron.
“I think the biggest change, especially for my class, we've always been known as the class that's goofed around,” Durkes said. “We've always been the funny kids in our school. It definitely from sophomore year has changed.
“You can tell the underclassmen are starting to look up to us more. You can tell the kids on the team want to win. We're not looking forward to (basketball) season, we just want to win. Going to semistate in sophomore year, we just stay focused on winning that next game.”
Durkes, in his third year as the Warriors' starting quarterback, has an 8-2 record in playoff games. But he has been average playing on the road, where he and Woodlan are 2-2 in the postseason.
Both losses – an upset at ACAC foe South Adams in the sectional semifinals last year and an icy 14-7 defeat two years ago at Whiting – taught he and the team valuable lessons that will hopefully pay off when the 10-2 Warriors, ranked sixth in Class 2A, make the nearly 150-mile trek west to face an 8-4 North Newton squad in a Friday regional final.
Durkes admitted that after defeating South Adams by 33 points in Week 8 last year, Woodlan's focus wasn't where it needed to be for the postseason rematch. That lesson paid off last week, when the Warriors held off a Central Noble squad having its best season in more than a decade.
“We were hungry for more,” Durkes said. “Especially with Jack (Rhoades) leaving the game (after a second-quarter ejection), we couldn't come down to their level, we had to stay at our level and that's exactly what we did in the second half.”
In the second quarter against the Cougars, after scoring his second touchdown of the game, Rhoades was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. The play was submitted to the IHSAA for appeal. The appeal was denied, meaning that Rhoades is unable to play in regionals. With Rhoades, Indiana's sixth-leading rusher, according to MaxPreps.com, out, Durkes knows he'll have to shoulder more of the responsibility on offense.
“I wouldn't say it's pressure, but I'm more anxious,” Durkes said. “I think our team is very capable of doing it, but I just don't want to get upset like we did last season. Last week, I knew going into the second half, everyone had to pick it up, including myself. We went to the air more, and as a quarterback I knew it was my time to shine.
“I didn't really feel much pressure doing it, I've been in that situation for three years now. It's second nature now, I just need to get the ball in the hands of our receivers, and they make me look good.”