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MCDONALD'S GAME OF THE WEEK (Prep Football): Darlington 27, Lake Country Lutheran 26
#8 Redbirds boot #2 Lightning in overtime
Darlington senior Cole Crist's extra point lifted the Redbirds to a wild 27–26 overtime victory over #2-ranked Lake Country Lutheran last Friday night.

PREP FOOTBALL: #8 Darlington 27, #2 Lake Country Lutheran 26, OT

HARTLAND – The battle of state-ranked teams came down to the kicking game as junior Cole Crist’s extra-point kick in overtime lifted the visiting Darlington Redbirds over the Lake Country Lutheran Lightning, 27–26, in a wild see-saw prep football game held at LCL High School on Friday, Aug. 30.

The overtime victory pushed the Redbirds, who ranked #8 in Division 6 in the first State Coaches Poll, to 2-0 on the season, while the Lightning, who were ranked #2 in D5 this week after knocking off defending D5 state champion Saint Mary’s Springs 21–14 in their opener, slipped to 1–1 on the season.

“The feeling when it went through was straight joy! It’s the best week two win I have ever been a part of, but it is just that– a week two win. I told the guys that no one wants to peak in week two,” said Darlington head coach Travis Winkers.

“I’m just very happy for the kids. We took a lot of games on the chin last year. We had talked a lot about having to work hard all off-season to close the gaps based off the butt whoopings we took last year. This game was big for confidence and showed that we have closed some gaps from last year.  Again, just very happy for the kids on a win against one the better programs in D5.”

The Redbirds finished 5–6 last season and gave up 42 points in four of their six losses, including a 42–0 drubbing at the hands of the Lightning at home in week two. The 'Birds came into Friday’s game ready to show what a difference a year can make.

The teams traded the lead throughout the night as it bounced back and forth between the two sidelines on six of the game’s nine scores.

After falling behind 3–0 early on a 23-yard field goal by Andrew Schumacher in the first quarter, the Redbirds grabbed their first lead on a 65-yard touchdown scamper by sophomore halfback Easton Evenstad. Crist’s PAT made it 7–3 with 4:49 remaining in the opening stanza.

The Lightning regained the lead at 10-7 on Luke Haertle’s 6-yard TD pass to Jack Leverenz with 7:07 remaining in the first half, and then pinned the ‘Birds down at their own 1-yard line on the ensuing kickoff.

However, the Redbirds dug deep and put together an 11-play, 99-yard march to grab the lead right back. Evenstad busted loose for a 42-yard TD run to cap the drive with 2:27, and the ‘Birds took a 13–10 advantage into the halftime break.

“After a mental mistake on the kickoff, we had a nice scoring drive. To be able to do that against such a quality program was huge,” admitted Winkers.

A 3-yard TD run by junior Cayden Rankin extended Darlington’s lead to 20–10, but the Lightning struck back just 54 seconds later with a 57-yard TD jaunt by Zander Mueller to make it 20–17.

Then, the Lightning deadlocked the score at 20–20 with 2:12 in regulation when Schumacher booted another 23-yard field goal.

“I just felt we had really good effort and kept fighting the whole game. Our defense definitely bent, but didn’t break. We had two big stops to hold them to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns. Stating the obvious, we would not have had a chance in overtime if it was not for those keeping them out of the end zone,” Winkers noted.

The hosts got the ball first in OT and promptly scored on a 17-yard run by Mueller to go ahead 26-20. However, the Lightning missed the extra point to leave the door open for the ‘Birds.

Darlington took care of the first order of business by answering LCL’s score with a 4-yard TD run by Rankin to tie the score up once more. Then, Crist snapped the tie by sneaking his kick just over the upright to kick off a raucous Redbirds’ celebration

“Kicking did play a big role. They had an extremely good kicker. He made a couple of field goals but, lucky for us, their holder kind of let go of the ball a little early on their XP in overtime causing a miss. Most schools don’t have a kicker like him. It really allowed them to stay in the game too,” said Winkers. “We went 2-for-3 on XP in regulation and made the big one in overtime.”  

The Redbirds finished with 208 rushing yards on 45 carries, added 55 passing yards on three completions and ended the night without committing a turnover. The Lightning ran for 201 yards and had 85 passing yards, but turned the ball over twice on fumbles.

Evenstad ran for a game-high 122 yards on five totes with two TDs. Wyat Bredeson added 47 yards on 20 carries, and Carter Lancaster hauled in three catches from Braden Davis for 55 yards.

Mueller ran 10 times for 101 yards and two scores for LCL.

Defensively, Carson Lobdell registered a team-high 11 tackles. Lancaster added eight stops for the 'Birds, and James Hartwig recorded a sack.

Darlington faces another state-ranked opponent this Friday when they host #5-ranked Lancaster (D5) in their SWAL opener at Martens Field. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“This week is going to be even tougher, in my opinion, and definitely means more since it is a conference game. We talk about closing gaps and this was one of the teams that took it to us last year in the playoffs. We gave up almost 500 yards rushing in that game. They have all their studs back from last year and the majority of their team. It is going to be a very tough game and we will need to play even better than last Friday to come away with a win. This is another measuring stick to see how much of the gap we have closed from last October,” Winkers remarked.

Darlington……...7  6  7  0  7 – 27
Lake Co. Luth.…3  7  7  3  6 – 26
LCL – Schumacher, 23 FG 
D – Easton Evenstad, 65 run (Cole Crist kick)
LCL – Leverenz, 6 pass from Haertle (Schumacher kick)
D– Evenstad, 42 run (kick failed)
D – Cayden Rankin, 3 run (Crist kick)
LCL – Mueller, 57 run ( Schumacher kick)
LCL – Schumacher, 23 FG 
LCL – Mueller, 17 run (kick failed)
D – Rankin, 4 run (Crist kick)
     Team StatsFirst Downs– D 9, LCL 14. Rushing– D 45-208; LCL 30-201. Passing–D 3-4-0, 55; LCL 12-17-0, 85. Fumbles-Lost– D 3-0; LCL 2-2. Penalties- D 4-30; LCL 6-30.
     Darlington Individual Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Easton Evenstad, 5-122-2.Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Braden Davis, 3-4-0-0, 55. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Carter Lancaster, 3-55-0.