CUBA CITY – Darlington running back Hunter Johnson trumped Mother Nature on Friday night with some lightning of his own.
Johnson struck for a momentum-shifting 78-yard touchdown run six minutes remaining; and then, following a 30-minute delay due to actual lightning with just over four minutes to go, the Redbird junior struck again from 63 yards out on the first play back to send #3-ranked Darlington rushing past the #4-ranked Cuba City Cubans, 34-13, in a SWAL showdown on a stormy night at O.A. Barth Field on Friday, Sept. 18.
“Momentum was shifting (to the Cubans). We were able to seize it and get it back through some big plays– both offensively and defensively. I was very pleased with the way our kids responded,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
The Redbirds (5-0 overall) remain tied atop the SWAL standings with Iowa-Grant at 3-0, while the Cubans (4-1) slipped to 2-1 in league play.
“The key was our execution. The old saying is power punishes and speed kills. We’d like to think we have a lot of both,” Zywicki added.
Darlington struck early and often to jump out to a 21-0 halftime lead on the Cubans.
“I’m proud of the way the kids played. Hats off to Darlington. It was their night tonight,” said Cuba City head coach Guy Kopp. “You can make all the excuses you want (about the weather), but you still have to move the ball and tackle. Darlington did that better tonight.”
An 18-yard TD run by H. Johnson just four minutes into the game put the ‘Birds on top 7-0. Junior halfback Trevor Johnson hit paydirt on a 9-yard scoring jaunt at the 3:47 mark of the first quarter, and added a 22-yard TD scamper with 4:25 remaining in the second quarter to extend the lead to 21-0.
“Offensive coordinator Ryan McGranahan put in a new wrinkle running the counters with a reverse. Cuba City is extremely good at reading the guards, so we had no guards pulling. It gave them a false read. We caught them flat-footed early in the game. Hats off to him and his creative play calling,” explained Zywicki.
Neither team could find the end zone in the third quarter as the constant rain showers and each team’s halftime adjustments combining to bog down the others offensive attack.
The Cubans caught a huge break with 13 seconds remaining in the stanza when they jumped on a Redbird fumble at the Darlington 13-yard line. On the second play of the ensuing drive, sophomore Kordell Stillmunkes hit senior wide receiver Justin Droessler on a 23-yard halfback option pass to put the Cubans on the scoreboard to cut the deficit to 21-7.
The Cubans forced a quick punt and went right back to work through the air. This time it was quarterback Kyle Bass teaming with senior wide receiver Brady Vaassen for a 58-yard scoring strike to make the score 21-13 with 8:12 remaining.
With the momentum swinging towards the Cuba City sideline, H. Johnson swung it right back to the Redbirds’ side with a 79-yard jaunt. A missed PAT kept the score at 27-13 with 5:59 remaining.
Stillmunkes returned the ensuing kickoff deep into Redbirds’ territory, but the Redbirds held strong and forced a quick turnover on downs at the 34.
“The kids got to regroup. They believe in themselves. You could see with our second half adjustments that we were doing it. But, once again, their big playmakers made the big plays and our playmakers couldn’t. That takes the wind out of your sails,” Kopp added.
With the rain picking back up and lightning striking in the distance, the game was halted at the 4:09 mark with the Redbirds facing a 3rd-and-7 from their own 37. When play resumed half an hour later, H. Johnson broke through a huge hole at the line and raced 63 yards for the game-sealing score.
“We talked about how they were going to play us,” said Zywicki about what they discussed during the delay. “(Cuba City) did exactly what we thought they would do and that allowed us to get he ball into one of our best ball player’s hands in the open field.”
Brayden McDonald and T. Johnson picked off a pair of Bass passes down the stretch to secure the victory for the ‘Birds.
Darlington finished the night with 362 rushing yards on 54 carries and wrapped the game up without attempting a single pass. H. Johnson ran it 17 times for 254 yards and three scores, while T. Johnson toted it nine times for 33 yards and two scores.
“They are both instrumental in our rushing attack because they are both so dangerous with the ball, but it takes the five people up front along with the rest of guys to do their jobs. (Hunter and Trevor) get all he glory, but it’s the entire offense executing the way it should and busting their butts because they don’t care if Trevor and Hunter get the glory,” Zywicki noted.
Opening up the holes on the line were guards Jesse Sturtz and Taylor Evenstad, tackles Logan Muhlstein and Chad Golackson and center Josh Weaver along with tight end Hayden Hardyman.
The Cubans finished the night with 160 yards of offense, gaining 123 yards through the air and adding just 37 yards on the ground on 21 carries.
Bass completed 7-of-19 passes for 100 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Stimmunkes, who had a long touchdown run called back in the second quarter, went 1-for-1 through the air for 23 yards and a TD, while adding four catches for 24 yards and four rushes for seven yards.
Vaassen had one catch for 58 yards and a TD. Droessler caught two passes for 41 yards and a score, and Chris Moor ran 11 times for 29 yards.
“I think our defense came to play today. We gave up the two long pass plays, but otherwise I thought our defense was pretty solid today,” commented Zywicki. “Our defensive and offensive lines came out and did a great job. Our kids executed very well against their option.”
Defensively, Sturtz recorded six tackles and a fumble recovery to lead the Redbirds. Weaver and H. Johnson added five tackles apiece, while Evenstad registered a sack.
Darlington returns home to host Boscobel (2-3, 0-3) in their Homecoming Game at Martens Field on Friday, Sept. 25. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Cuba City travels to Muscoda to meet Riverdale (1-4, 0-3) in a SWAL contest on Friday, Sept. 25. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“Riverdale’s no slouch. They might not have the numbers, but they are well coached. They’ll give us fits. They can move the ball because they’re shifty at what they do,” stated Kopp.
Darlington… 14 7 0 13 – 34
Cuba City…. 0 0 0 13 – 13
D – Hunter Johnson, 18 run (Chad Golackson kick)
D – Trevor Johnson, 9 run (Golackson kick)
D – T. Johnson, 22 run (Golackson kick)
CC – Justin Droessler, 23 pass from Kordell Stimmunkes (Nathan Timmerman kick)
CC – Brady Vaassen, 58 pass from Kyle Bass (kick failed)
D – H. Johnson, 79 run (kick failed)
D – H. Johnson, 63 run (Golackson kick)
Team Stats: First Downs– D 9; CC 4. Rushing– D 54-362; CC 21-37. Passing– D 0-0-0, 0; CC 8-20-2, 123. Fumbles-Lost– D 2-1; CC 5-1. Penalties– D 11-90, CC 7-50.
Individual Leaders: CC– Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Chris Moor, 11-29-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Kyle Bass, 7-19-2-1, 100; Kordell Stillmunkes, 1-1-0-1, 23. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Brady Vaassen, 1-58-1; Justin Droessler, 2-41-1. Darl– Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Hunter Johnson, 17-254-3; Trevor Johnson, 9-33-2. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– None. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– None.