Stephanie Pitzen contributed
DARLINGTON - And then there was one.
Darlington remains the last unbeaten team in the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League after knocking off #6-ranked Cuba City, 15-7, on Homecoming Day at Martens Field on Friday, Sept. 30.
The two teams came into the game locked in a tie atop the SWAL standings, but the Redbirds would be the team to remain on top after holding off a late push by the Cubans.
Cuba City head coach Guy Kopp said the bottom line was turnovers. "When you get into the tough part of conference play you must take care of the ball," Kopp said. "I said all week the team that has the least amount of turnovers will win the game. We had three and Darlington had none."
Darlington (5-2 overall, 5-0 in SWAL) got the festivities started early, driving 45-yards on nine plays to become the first team to score on the Cubans (6-1, 4-1) in the first half of a game this season.
A 23-yard hook-and-ladder play from Storm Wiegel to Mitchell Whalen got the ‘Birds moving, and senior fullback Seth Rowe capped the drive with a 1-yard blast into the end zone. Whalen tacked on the two-point conversion on a gutsy run to put the hosts ahead 8-0 with 49 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
The Redbirds struck again early in the second quarter thanks to a Cuban fumble deep in their own territory. Two plays after sophomore A.J. Brandt jumped on the loose ball at the CC 12-yard line, Whalen shimmied across the goal line to extend the lead to 15-0 with 8:01 to play in the first half.
The Cubans mounted a scoring threat late in the half, but an interception by Levi Wedig at the Darlington 6 with under 30 seconds remaining preserved the first-half shutout.
With both teams stuffing the others high-powered rushing attack for much of the day, the Cubans and the Redbirds each had to go to the air to move the ball down the field.
Both teams had some success in the passing game, but neither team put points up through the air until Cuba's Kyle Frederick connected with tight end Jeff Meckstroth on a 31-yard scoring strike with 3:24 remaining in regulation. Gregory Ganter's extra point kick trimmed the gap to 15-7.
The Cubans kept the momentum in their favor when Dillon Hoffman recovered an onside kick at the CC 48.
Seven plays later, facing a fourth-and-15 inside the Darlington 19, Frederick hooked up with Jacob Timmerman through the air, but Timmerman was stopped a few inches shy of the first down by a trio of Redbird tacklers to allow the 'Birds to hang on for the win.
The Cubans held a slight edge on the Redbirds on the ground, 116-101, and through the air, 163-117, but they hurt themselves with three turnovers.
Kopp said it was a hard fought game. "Both teams had to use different parts of their offense to move the ball," Kopp said. "We had to pass and they had to pass. Kyle Frederick threw the ball well in the second half and Jeff Meckstroth did a tremendous job catching the ball. Chad Lange once again did a nice job on defense came a big a few times on the trap and sweeps."
Alex Murphy led the Cubans ground attack with 51 yards on 11 carries, while Frederick went 12-of-27 for 163 yards with Meckstroth making six catches for 94 yards and a score for the guests.
Kopp said his team will prepare for the next game. "We will move on, correct our mistakes, and take care of business this week preparing for Mineral Point," Kopp said. "It's the last home game of the season for this senior class and they will want to make it a positive memory."
Cuba City falls to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SWAL. Cuba City hosts Mineral Point Friday night with kick off at 7 p.m.