DARLINGTON – Andy Palzkill helped guide the Redbirds to many wins at Martens Field in his seven seasons as Darlington offensive coordinator.
Fortunately for the Redbirds, he was unable to do the same in his return to Martens Field as Mineral Point’s new head coach.
Palzkill’s Pointers cut Darlington’s lead to 21-20 on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Barrette to Tarek Oellerich with 1:42 remaining, but the Redbirds stopped the game-winning, two-point conversion try to hold on for a key SWAL victory on Friday, Sept. 21.
“Today we were fortunate to just make enough of the positive plays to come out of here with the win,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
Mineral Point (1-4 overall, 1-3 SWAL) tied the game at 13 all with 4:38 remaining when Barrette hit Turner Poad with an 11-yard scoring strike, and Dylan Kroll’s extra point kick gave the Pointers a 14-13 lead.
The Redbirds (3-2, 3-1) took over at their own 36 on the ensuing possession and marched right down the field to regain the advantage.
Sophomore quarterback Cole McDonald, who was 0-for-4 going into the drive, completed a 17-yard pass to Aric Geissbuhler on a 4th-and-8 play to keep the drive alive, and on the very next play he connected with senior Storm Wiegel on a 45-yard touchdown pass to put the ‘Birds back on top 19-14 with 2:15 to play.
The Redbirds tacked on the two-point conversion on a pass from McDonald to Myles Leahy to extend the lead to 21-14.
“(Cole) threw some outstanding passes when we needed him to in some critical situations,” said Zywicki, who also noted his quarterback was under-throwing his receivers in the first half. “He throws a great ball when he throws it with confidence.”
Point quickly went to the air, driving 75 yards in just 28 seconds to cut the Redbird lead to 21-20 on Barrette’s third touchdown pass of the second-half and second to Oellerich.
Without hesitating, the Pointers lined up to go for the two-point conversion and the win. But, after a penalty moved them back five yards, the Redbirds put heavy pressure on Barrette and his pass attempt fell incomplete to leave the Redbirds in the lead.
“We sat in the huddle and I talked it over with the boys. I said here’s the deal, we’re not going to lose the game going for a tie. If we lose it, it’ll be going for the win. That was our thought process,” explained Palzkill, who is in his second season of coaching at his alma mater and his first as the Pointers’ head coach. “Darlington ended up making enough plays to win the game, so congrats to them.”
Sophomore Jason Singer made a great play hauling in the onside kick attempt by the Pointers, and Leahy powered the Redbirds to a first down with under a minute to play to seal the victory.
Darlington dominated the play on both sides of the ball in the first half, but still only managed to build up a 13-0 lead by the intermission.
The Redbirds rushed for 175 yards on 27 carries in the first half and scored on a 9-yard run by McDonald midway through the first quarter and a 1-yard run by Leahy midway through the second quarter to open up their advantage.
The lead could have been greater if not for an interception in the end zone by a Mineral Point defender early in the second quarter.
The Redbirds’ defense did its part by holding the Pointers to just 67 total yards in the first half, including a 0-for-5 performance by Barrette through the air.
Darlington would have several more scoring chances fizzle in the second half to allow the Pointers to remain in the game.
The ‘Birds fumbled the ball away at the Mineral Point 9-yard line on their second possession of the second half, and then threw another interception at the goal line on their next drive. They also had a touchdown called back due to a penalty early in the fourth quarter and would later punt, and lost another fumble at midfield which led to the Pointers’ go-ahead score.
“We had all kinds of opportunities to put the game away early and we didn’t do it. You can’t do that against good teams,” Zywicki commented.
After being shutout in the first half, Barrette got the Pointers rolling in the second half as he connected on 8-of-13 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns over the final two quarters. The Pointers also added 70 yards to their total on six Darlington defensive penalties in the second half.
The ‘Birds did stop a pair of Pointer drives on downs and recovered a fumble on another drive in the second half, while holding the Pointers to just 20 rushing yards over the last 24 minutes of the game.
“It was an uneven performance,” added Zywicki.
Leahy ran the ball 24 times for 150 yards and a TD to lead the Redbirds’ rushing attack, and Wiegel followed with 146 yards on 15 carries and had one catch for 45 yards and a score.
John Schmitz led the Pointers on the ground with 55 yards on 18 totes, while Oellerich caught two passes for 114 yards and two scores for the guests.
With Friday’s win, Darlington remains in the hunt for the SWAL crown, but they will have to go through unbeaten Cuba City to get it.
The Cubans (5-0, 4-0) remaining atop the SWAL standings after defeating Iowa-Grant, 28-12, in Livingston last Friday.
“We’re right where we need to be,” said Zywicki with his team sitting tied for second-place with Iowa-Grant and Fennimore a game behind Cuba City with three games to play. “We have to win out to have a chance (at the conference title).”
The Redbirds will try to bring the Cubans back to the pack– and spoil the Cubans’ Homecoming celebration– when they travel to Cuba City on Friday, Sept. 28. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Mineral Point… 0 0 7 13 - 20
Darlington........ 7 6 0 8 - 21
D – Cole McDonald, 9 run (Hayden Black kick)
D – Myles Leahy, 1 run (kick failed)
MP – Oellerich, 73 pass from Barrette (Kroll kick)
MP – T. Poad, 11 pass from Barrette (Kroll kick)
D – Storm Wiegel, 45 pass from McDonald (Leahy pass from McDonald)
MP – Oellerich, 41 pass from Barrette (pass failed)
Team Stats: First Downs- MP 8; D 15. Rushing- MP 26-87; D 52-301. Passing- MP 8-19-0, 195; D 3-7-2, 67. Fumbles-Lost- MP 2-2; D 4-2. Penalties- MP 3-20, D 10-105.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Myles Leahy 24-150-1; Storm Wiegel, 15-146-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Cole McDonald, 3-7-2-1, 67. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- S. Wiegel 1-45-1.