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MCDONALD'S GAME OF THE WEEK (Prep Football): Darlington 34, River Valley 21
Redbirds soar past Blackhawks in football opener
Darlington senior Carter Lancaster stretches for the goal line in Friday's 34–21 season-opening victory over River Valley. Lancaster caught a pair of TDs in the win.

PREP FOOTBALL: Darlington 34, River Valley 21

DARLINGTON — Junior quarterback Braden Davis tossed a career-high four touchdowns passes to lead the Darlington Redbirds to an impressive 34-21 victory over visiting River Valley at Martens Field on Friday, Sept. 25.

“It was exciting all week. We were hoping to get here and we were kind of on edge, and nervous we’d get to play,” Darlington head coach Travis Winkers said. “We played well.”

Davis’ two third-quarter scoring strikes snapped a 14-14 halftime tie and sent the Redbirds (1-0), who advanced to Level 2 of the WIAA Division 6 playoffs a year ago, soaring past the Blackhawks (0-1), who were a Level 4 state semifinalist in Division 4 playoffs last season.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring midway through the opening quarter when quarterback Will Bailey hooked up with Cole White on a 35-yard bomb to grab a 6-0 advantage with 6:58 remaining in the stanza.

The Redbirds struck right back a short time later with junior Easton Easton punching in a 2-yard TD run at the 4:17 mark to even the score at 6-6.

“Last year we needed to score early to even get that confidence; the fact that we answered early let them know that we can play. We’ve got a good group this year,” Winkers said.

The ‘Birds took their first lead of the night midway through the second quarter on a 7-yard TD pass from Davis to senior Carter Lancaster. Davis tacked on the two-point conversion to extend the lead to 14-6.

The Blackhawks had an answer of their own, scoring on a 13-yard Bailey to Max Solomon pass with no time remaining in the first half. Bailey added the conversion to deadlock the score one again at 14-14 heading into the intermission.

Davis gave the ‘Birds back the lead midway through in the third by connecting with Lancaster on a 20-yard TD pass, and then he hit pay dirt once again on the final play of the period when he connected with senior Cayden Rankin from 19 yards out to put the hosts ahead 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

The lead swelled to 34-14 with just over six minutes remaining in the game when Davis teamed with junior Hunter Hardyman on a 39-yard bomb.

The Blackhawks cut the deficit to 34-21 on Bailey’s third TD pass of the night– a 17-yard strike to Tyler Nachreiner– with 4:04 to play.

Lancaster recovered an onside kick attempt at midfield, and the Redbirds were able to ride out the final minutes to secure a victory in their opener for the third year in a row.

“We’ve been a younger team the last few years, and coming into this year, our senior and junior classes have tons of experience and really know how varsity football goes. We were able to play well,” Davis said. “We’re really glad to play this year.”

Darlington used a balanced attack to roll up more than 300 yards on offense in the game. The ‘Birds ran 36 times for 192, while completing 11 passes for another 120 yards.

The ‘Hawks put the ball in the air 42 times on the night, completing 21 of their attempts for 312 yards. The ‘Birds D limited their guests to just 37 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Lancaster finished the night with four catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns, and five carries for a game-high 82 yards. Davis had 35 yards rushing on nine carries, and Rankin finished with 52 rushing yards on eight runs. Rankin added 45 yards through the air on four catches.

“It’s such a great feeling. The crowd, under the lights; it’s just a good feeling to get back out here and I’m happy that we got the opportunity to do it,” Lancaster said.

Defensively, Rankin had a sack and six tackles, while Evenstad led the Redbirds with 10 tackles. Breylin Goebel had an interception.

Bailey finished the night 21 of 42 passing for 312 yards, three TDs and one interception. He also led the Blackhawks with 28 rushing yards. Nachreiner led River Valley with eight catches for 124 yards.

Up next for Darlington is a road game at Dodgeville on Friday, Oct. 2. The Dodgers (0-1) were blown out 42-7 by Mineral Point in its opener. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.


Darlington 34, River Valley 21
(Friday, Sept. 25 @ Darlington)
River Valley…..6  8    0  7 – 21
Darlington…….6  8  14  6 – 34
RV– White, 35 pass from Bailey (kick failed)
D– Easton Evenstad, 2 run (kick failed)
D– Carter Lancaster, 7 pass from Braden Davis (Davis run)
RV– Solomon, 13 pass from Bailey (Bailey run)
D– Lancaster, 20 pass from Davis (Cole Crist kick)
D– Cayden Rankin, 19 pass Braden Davis (Crist kick)
D– Hunter Hardyman, 39 pass from Davis (kick failed)
RV– Nachreiner, 17 pass from Bailey (Bailey kick)
Team Stats: First Downs– RV 13, D 12. Rushing– RV 19-37; D 36-192. Passing– RV 21-42-1, 312; D 11-15-0, 120. Fumbles-Lost– RV 1-0; D 3-1. Penalties- RV 7-55; D 5-40.
Darlington Individual Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Carter Lancaster, 5-82-0; Cayden Rankin, 8-52-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Braden Davis, 11-15-0-4, 120. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Lancaster, 4-41-2; Rankin, 4-26-1; Hunter Hardyman, 1-39-1.