CUBA CITY – The Redbirds literally turned over a victory– and possibly the SWAL title– to Cuba City on Friday night.
Darlington, which had earned a shared or outright possession of the last three SWAL crowns, turned the ball over six times in the game, including five in the second half, as the league-leading and #9-ranked Cubans rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Redbirds, 14-7, in a SWAL slugfest at O.A. Barth Athletic Field on Friday, Sept. 28.
The Redbirds (3-3 overall, 3-2 SWAL) calmed the Cubans’ Homecoming spirit early on, taking the opening kickoff at their own 20-yard line and marching deep into Cuban territory with a nice mixture of runs and passes.
On the ninth play of the drive, the Redbird quarterback appeared headed into the end zone, but CC’s Preston Droessler met the sophomore signal-caller at the goal line and separated him from the ball as he stretched for the touchdown.
CC’s Eric Matuszak pounced on the fumble at the 1, turning away the Birds’ threat and setting the tone for the rest of the night. Nothing would come easy for either team on this night.
The score remained stuck at 0-0 until the final minute of the first half when McDonald found Kyle Johnson open in the end zone behind a pair of Cuban defenders for a 24-yard touchdown.
Hayden Black tacked on the extra point to put the Redbirds ahead 7-0 with 47 seconds remaining in the half.
“Offensively, our kids did a great job moving the ball early. I think we got tired and we stopped moving our feet,’ said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki, who was on the sideline for the game despite missing several practices during the week due to illness.
Things started off shaky for both teams in the third quarter as they combined to turn the ball over five times. Each team muffed a punt and throw and interception, while the ‘Birds also lost a fumble in their own territory to help set up the Cubans’ first score.
Five plays after Darlington running back Storm Wiegel coughed up a fumble at the Redbird 38, senior quarterback Kyle Frederick scored from a yard out to put the Cubans (6-0, 5-0) on the board.
Greg Ganter nailed the PAT to deadlock the score at 7-7 with 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The ‘Birds punted the ball right back to the hosts early in the fourth quarter, and the Cubans charged right back down the field with Frederick hooking up with Droessler on a 58-yard scoring strike to thrust their team into the lead. It was the only pass Frederick completed in the second half.
Ganter’s PAT put the Cubans ahead 14-7 with 10:42 to play.
Darlington had four more chances to try and tie the score down the stretch, but a fumble and an interception on two of their last four drives sealed their fate.
“You can’t give a good football team too many opportunities and except to win,” stated Zywicki, adding that their five second-half turnovers not only gave the Cubans great field position, but also took any chances for his Redbirds to score. “Even though our defense did a decent job of stopping them in the second half, we just gave them too many opportunities.”
The Redbirds out-gained the Cubans, 141 to 84 yards, in the first half; but the hosts turned the tables in the second half, rolling up 134 yards to the Birds’ 49. Darlington earned just one first down in the entire second half.
Sophomore fullback Myles Leahy ran 18 times for 85 yards to lead the Redbirds’ rushing attack.
McDonald went 8-for-8 for 71 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but he was held without a completion in six attempts and tossed two interceptions in the second half to finish 8-for-14 through the air.
Defensively, Michael Ruf recorded 13 tackles and caused a fumble. Storm Wiegel followed with nine tackles and Tanner Wiegel had seven stops.
Carson Carpenter added seven tackles with a fumble caused and a sack, and Kyle Johnson tallied seven tackles with an interception, a fumble caused and a fumble recovered on the night.
Jason Singer and Trent Nyffenegger registered sacks and Black jumped on a fumble for the ‘Birds.
The win leaves the Cubans alone in first-place in the SWAL a game ahead of Iowa-Grant and Fennimore (both 4-1) with just two games remaining in the regular season.
With the conference title out of the picture for this season, the Redbirds turn their attention towards a playoff berth, which they can lock up with a victory over Southwestern in Darlington’s Homecoming Game at Martens Field on Friday, Oct. 5.
“I worry about all the extraneous things diverting the kids’ attention from the football game because we need a victory,” said Zywicki.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Darlington… 0 7 0 0 - 7
Cuba City…. 0 0 7 7 - 14
D – Kyle Johnson, 24 pass from Cole McDonald (Hayden Black kick)
CC – Frederick, 1 run (Ganter kick)
CC – Droessler, 58 pass from Frederick (Ganter kick)
Team Stats: First Downs- D 9; CC 11. Rushing- D 36-119; CC 41-132. Passing- D 8-14-2, 71; D 3-14-1, 106. Fumbles-Lost- D 2-0; CC 4-2. Penalties- D 3-20, CC 10-105.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Myles Leahy 18-85-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Cole McDonald, 8-14-2-1, 71. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- Kyle Johnson 1-24-1.