DARLINGTON – Darlington wasted no time getting ahead of Iowa-Grant last Friday night, and a strong defensive effort made sure that lead stood up as the #1-ranked Redbirds locked up their third straight outright SWAL title with a 42-0 victory over the visiting Panthers in their regular season finale at Martens Field on Oct. 16.
Junior Trevor Johnson found the end zone from 20 yards out on the second play from scrimmage to put the Redbirds on top 7-0 just 25 seconds into the game, and the rout was on.
T. Johnson added two more touchdowns on the night and fellow junior Hunter Johnson added three scores of his own to keep the Redbirds firing on all cylinders, but it was the performance of the defense that stood out as they pitched their first shutout of the season against an Iowa-Grant team who came into the night averaging nearly 35 points per game.
“It was a very impressive performance on both sides of the ball. Last week, our offense shone through. Tonight, our defense shut down a very, very good running back. They have been putting up points on everybody,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki. “We were explosive early. They made us work hard for what we got at the end.”
H. Johnson capped a pair of four-play scoring drives with TD runs of 25 and 58 yards on the Redbirds next two possessions to put them ahead 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, and he closed a nine-play, 86-yard drive with an 8-yard TD run midway through the second quarter to extend the lead to 28-0.
T. Johnson tacked on a 27-yard TD run with two minutes remaining in the first half to make it 35-0, and hauled in a 46-yard TD pass from Jared Meister on the Redbirds opening drive of the second half to push the lead to 42-0.
Darlington’s D stopped the Panthers on downs inside the 20-yard line three times in the game, including twice in the second half to preserve the shutout.
“We got a little more aggressive down there. We started sending people and we aggressively met them in the backfield, which was a huge boost for us mentally and a real letdown for them,” noted Zywicki.
The win gave the Redbirds (9-0 overall, 7-0 SWAL) sole possession of the league title for the third season in a row. Considering the graduation losses from the last two seasons, this year’s title is really special to Zywicki and the team.
“With so few seniors on the team, it’s a very special accomplishment. We had to replace an awful lot of seniors from last year– a lot of very, very good seniors,” explained Zywicki. “I think our juniors and seniors have bonded very well this year. They enjoy each others company, and they were willing to make the sacrifices for each other that they needed to make for these senior to be successful.”
Johnson and Johnson finished the night with nearly 400 yards of total offense and the cousins combined for six scores. H. Johnson rushed for a game-high 160 yards on 12 carries and had three TDs on the ground, while catching one pass for 32 yards. T. Johnson ran 11 times for 114 yards and two scores, and hauled in two catches for 87 yards and a TD.
Meister finished 4-of-6 passing for 130 yards and a score for the Redbirds, who rolled up over 400 yards of offense for the sixth time this season.
The Panthers (5-4, 4-3) gained just 160 yards-135 on the ground and 25 through the air- on the night led by senior running back Brayden Johnson, who gained a hard-earned 123 yards on 29 carries to remain 52 yards ahead of H. Johnson as the top rusher in Division 6 this season.
Defensively, Hayden Hardyman was in on 16 tackles, including two for loss. Meister tallied 11 tackles, while Taylor Evenstad, Tyler Osterday and H. Johnson each had six stops. Brayden McDonald intercepted a pass, and Jarrett Lancaster had a sack for the ‘Birds.
The top-seeded Redbirds open the WIAA Division 6 playoffs against #8-seeded Pardeeville (5-4) at Martens Field on Friday, Oct. 23.
“It’s nice to be home. The kids certainly deserve that with the way that they have played all year long. Pardeeville has some dangerous kids and it will be a challenge to defend them. They will try to spread us out and since they don’t have our size and they will have a difficult time running inside on us. I think you will see a lot of balls flying through the air Friday night.
“We need to improve our pass defense and technique. The last time we saw a team that threw the ball that much (Fennimore), we didn’t play well. Our secondary needs to communicate better and our linebackers need to get to their hook zones. We also will need to get a better pass rush out of our front four. We may have to move some of our kids around to get the right mix of kids on the field.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Iowa-Grant… 0 0 0 0 – 0
Darlington…. 21 14 7 0 – 42
D – Trevor Johnson, 20 run (Chad Golackson kick)
D – Hunter Johnson, 25 run (Golackson kick)
D – H. Johnson, 58 run (Golackson kick)
D – H. Johnson, 8 run (Golackson kick)
D – T. Johnson, 27 run (Golackson kick)
D – T. Johnson, 46 pass from Jared Meister (Golackson kick)
Team Stats: First Downs– IG 6; D 10. Rushing– IG 39-135; D 37-291. Passing– IG 5-10-1, 25; D 4-6-0, 130. Fumbles-Lost– IG 2-0; D 4-2. Penalties– IG 3-25, D 2-30.
Darlington leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Hunter Johnson, 12-160-3; Trevor Johnson, 11-114-2. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Jared Meister, 4-6-0-1, 130. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– T. Johnson, 2-87-1.