MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (Nov. 3–10)
WIAA DIVISION 6 FOOTBALL: #6 Darlington 38, #10 Cuba City 7
by Tom Gunnell, Republican Journal/Tri-County Press
DARLINGTON — Darlington’s Easton Evenstad got the Redbirds off and running playoff in their rematch against rival Cuba City on Friday night.
Evenstad rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns — including a 30-yard scoring dash on the sixth play of the game — to lead the #6-ranked Redbirds over the #10-ranked Cubans 38–7 in a WIAA Division 6 Level 3 football game held at Martens Field on Friday, Nov. 5.
These two teams met in week seven of the regular season with the ‘Birds defeating the Cubans by a score of 53-33 on their way to winning the outright SWAL title. Both defense showed improvement in Friday’s rematch, but the Birds’ D did more to shut down the Cubans’ high-scoring attack while the offense continued to put points on the scoreboard at a furious pace.
“Anytime you can almost running clock a team in Level 3, you have to be pleased,” said Darlington head coach Travis Winkers. “I think any game is important to get off to a fast start because it calms you down. If you can score on the first drive of the game, it is huge for the psyche of the team.”
Evenstad gave Darlington (11–1 overall) that boost on the sixth play from scrimmage when he cut loose on a 30-yard scoring jaunt to put the hosts ahead for good. Senior quarterback Braden Davis hooked up with sophomore Breylin Goebel for the two-point conversion to put the ‘Birds in front 8–0 just three minutes into the game.
Evenstad got the ball right back for the ‘Birds with a leaping interception at the Darlington 11-yard line to end the Cubans’ opening drive, and then Davis reeled off a 73-yard TD run just six plays later to extend the Birds’ advantage to 14–0 with 4:50 remaining in the opening quarter.
Darlington drove back into Cuba City territory on their third possession of the game, but they fumbled the ball away to the Cubans, which seemed to wake up the visiting sideline.
Starting at their own 29, the Cubans (9–3) marched 71 yards in 10 plays with senior running back Chayse Barth charging in from four yards outs at the 8:31 mark of the second quarter to cut the deficit to 14–7. Senior Jackson Soja tacked on the extra point for the guests.
The Redbirds returned to Cuban territory again on their next drive, however another lost fumble gave the guests a chance to tie the game before the intermission. The Cubans had a first down at the Darlington 23 with just over two minutes remaining in the half; but, after a sack by junior Mason Davis on first down and an intentional grounding penalty on fourth down, they wound up turning the ball over on downs to the ‘Birds at midfield with 34 seconds to go.
That was more than enough time for the hosts as a 28-yard run by Evenstad and a 17-yard reception by junior Carver Fitzsimons set the ball up at the 1. Davis snuck in from there with just three ticks remaining on the first half clock, and freshman Talan Crist punched in the conversion to put the ‘Birds up 22–7 at the break.
“To score right before half on a team leaves them with a sense of doubt because they have to think about that all halftime,” Winkers stated. “The defense played great all night. For them to give us time left to run our two-minute drill before half was huge. Knock on wood, but we have been pretty good in our two-minute drill situations all year. The kids really look forward to running our two-minute drill in practice every week.”
Evenstad pushed the Darlington lead to 30–7 with a 55-yard TD run on their first possession of the second half.
Sophomore Tye Crist got the ball back less than a minute later when he picked off a tipped Beau Kopp pass near midfield and returned it to the Cuban 39. Five plays later, Breylin Goebel raced nine yards to pay dirt and then tacked on his second conversion run of the half to put the ‘Birds up 38–7.
The Darlington defense stopped the Cubans on downs on back-to-back drives into the red zone in the fourth quarter, and the second team offense picked up the key first down late in the game to seal the 31-point victory for the ‘Birds.
Darlington outgained the Cubans on the night, 461 to 282, thanks to a 408 to 67 edge on the ground behind the starting line of seniors Wiley Zasada and Ethan Hendrickson and juniors Max McGuire, Wyatt Davis and Barrett Vieth.
Evanstad carried the ball 10 times for 167 yards and two TDs to go over the 1,000-yard plateau on the season. He has currently rushed for 1,063 yards and 17 TDs.
Davis ran 14 times for 97 yards and two scores and also completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards on the night. Goebel toted the ball 10 times for 62 yards and a score and had one catch for 22 yards. Davis went over the 900-yard mark in the game, and Goebel topped the 800-yard mark.
Talon Crist (7-for-40) and junior Cadyn Burbach (1-for-43) each added 40-plus rushing yards, while Fitzsimons had two catches for 27 yards.
On defense, Tye Crist led the charge with nine tackles and an interception. Sophomore Roger Volkening III and B. Davis tallied seven tackles apiece, while Evenstad and sophomore Carter Murray added picks. M. Davis registered a sack and a half among his four tackles.
The Redbirds were without a pair of injured starters — senior Brady Horne and freshman Ross Crist — who were dressed but held out of Friday’s game for precautionary reasons. In their place, the team had Talan Crist on offense and sophomore Reagan Jackson on defense step up along with get key contributions from several other players off the bench.
“We make no excuses when injuries happen. It is simply the next-man-up mentality. To be able to put in a freshman at fullback and a sophomore at middle linebacker and, honestly, not have a huge drop off is credit to the players who stepped up on being prepared mentally and physically ready from the off-season. I’m very impressive by Reagan and Talon and I think, as a team, it puts the conference on notice for future years,” noted Winkers.
Barth finished with 43 yards and a TD on nine carries to pace the ground game for the Cubans. He ended the season rushing for 1,128 yards and 11 TDs
Kopp went over the 2,000-yard passing plateau for the season after completing 22-of-40 for 215 yards in the finale. He closed the season passing for 2,143 yards and 24 TDs with 12 ints.
Senior Carter Olson hauled in eight catches for 70 yards to end the year with 999 receiving yards. Senior Mason Reese added five catches for 54 yards.
Blake Bussan and Trent Pickel recovered two of the three fumbles for the Cubans.
“We are not going to be able to get away fumbling the ball next week. We have to be turnover free from here on out if we want to achieve our ultimate goal,” Winkers said.
Friday’s victory sends the Redbirds rushing into Level 4 of the WIAA D6 playoffs where they will face off against their old nemesis Saint Mary’s Springs at DeForest High School on Friday, Nov. 12, starting at 7 p.m.
Not only will the Redbirds be looking to earn the program’s 13th trip to Camp Randall for a state finals appearance, they will also be looking a chance to avenge their lone loss of the season — a 20–6 defeat at the hands of the Ledgers back in week two of the regular season.
The Redbirds have won 10 consecutive games since that loss to get a rematch, while the Ledgers (10–2) have won nine straight games since a 35–28 week three loss to Mayville, who will be facing the SWAL foe Belleville in a D5 Level 4 game in McFarland on Friday night.
The Ledgers will also be seeking their 13th all-time trip to Camp Randall since joining the WIAA in 2000. The have won a state record nine state titles and posted three runner-up finishes in their 12 trips to the state finals under legendary coach Bob Hyland, who leads the state with 491 career victories including three against the Redbirds in their five meetings since 2013.
Darlington defeated the Ledgers in state semifinal clashes in 2013 and 2016, while Springs downed the ‘Birds in back-to-back D6 state championship games in 2014 and 2015.
“They are the best small school program in the history of the state. What they have done since coming into the WIAA has been nothing but domination. We scheduled them for a reason (this season) and it made us a better team because of it. Both of us are better since that week two matchup,” remarked Winkers.
“With all that being said, they are still a faceless opponent. We feel the only team that can stop us is ourselves. If we play with a high level of intensity and physicality, protect the ball, and limit penalties, I truly believe we will be playing at Camp Randall next week.”
Friday winner will move on to face the winner of the other D6 state semifinal game between #2-ranked Colby (11–1) and Durand (11–1) in the state championship game at Camp Randall in Madison on Thursday, Nov. 18, starting at 1 p.m.
Cuba City…. 0 7 0 0 – 7
Darlington… 14 8 16 0 – 38
D– Easton Evenstad, 30 run (Breylin Goebel pass from Braden Davis)
D– B. Davis, 73 run (pass failed)
CC – Chayse Barth, 4 run (Jackson Soja kick)
D– B. Davis, 1 run (Talan Crist run)
D– Evenstad, 55 run (B. Goebel run)
D– B. Goebel, 9 run (B. Goebel run)
Team Stats: First Downs– CC 17, D 18. Rushing– CC 20-67; D 50-408. Passing– CC 22-41-3, 215; D 3-5-0, 49. Fumbles-Lost– CC 0-0; D 3-3. Penalties- CC 5-40; D 5-50.
CC Individual Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Chayse Barth, 9-43-1. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Beau Kopp, 22-40-3-0, 215. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Carter Olson, 8-70-0; Mason Reese, 5-54-0.
Darlington Individual Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Easton Evenstad, 10-167-2; Braden Davis, 14-97-2; Breylin Goebel, 10-62-1. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Davis, 3-5-0-0, 49. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Carver Fitzsimons, 2-27-0.