MINERAL POINT – Mitchell Whalen’s fleet feet got the Redbirds flying off to a fast start on Friday night.
The speedy senior scored three times on plays on 60+ yards in the first quarter to lift Darlington out to a quick 26-6 lead, and the Redbirds ran away with a key 47-14 SWAL victory over the host Mineral Pointer Pointers on Friday, Sept. 23.
“The boys came out ready to play tonight. We were fired up all week knowing this would be a pivotal game for us,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki. “You can’t beat it when you have two teams from towns next to each other playing for bragging rights.”
And, if proximity isn’t enough to fuel the rivalry, there is also quite a bit of familiarity between the programs to add to the drama. Mineral Point’s current offensive coordinator, Andy Palzkill, coached at Darlington for seven years prior to moving over to the Pointers this season, and Mineral Point head coach Tom Steger played for the Redbirds under Zywicki– then an assistant coach– in the late 1980s.
The Redbirds (4-2 overall, 4-0 in SWAL) got started with a bang when Whalen hit pay dirt on the second play of the game with a 67-yard touchdown run to put the guests on top for good, and he struck again– on the very same play– from 60 yards out on the first play from scrimmage on the Redbirds’ second possession to give the guests a 13-0 lead.
“He’s explosive. He really doesn’t look like much until you see him running next to someone, then he is pulling away from them,” Zywicki explained about Whalen. “He’s really not that big, but he doesn’t let you hit him square. He’s slippery and slides off tackles, and when he gets into the open field you can see he has a second gear.”
Senior fullback Seth Rowe added the first of his three TD runs with a 13-yard scoring scamper to push Darlington’s advantage to 19-0 just over seven minutes into the game.
The Pointers (3-3, 2-2) answered back with an 11-yard TD run by John Schmitz to trim the gap to 19-6, but the ‘Birds struck right back with a 64-yard scoring strike from quarterback Zach McArthur to Whalen with a minute to play in the opening period to open up a 26-6 lead.
An interception by Whalen in the end zone halted a Pointer scoring threat early in the second quarter, and the Redbirds went right back to work marching 80 yards on 15 plays with McArthur teaming with Brandon Hardyman on a 6-yard TD reception with 1:01 to play in the half to extend the lead to 34-6.
Whalen had a 70-yard punt return for a score called back due to a penalty early in the third quarter, and the Pointers turned the tables moment later with Dakota Poad taking a punt back 55 yards for a score to cut the lead to 34-14.
Darlington came right back with a 2-yard TD run by Rowe on their ensuing drive, and the senior completed the hat-trick on their next possession with an 11-yard scoring jaunt with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter to push their lead to 47-14.
The Redbirds finished the game with 404 yards rushing on 51 carries with five TDs on the ground, while McArthur went 3-for-3 on his passes for 84 yards and two scores.
“Our line really came off the ball well. There were gaping holes there,” Zywicki said. “Our defense played well enough. We made some mistakes, but we overcame those and made some big plays to stop them. Our offense was able to get it right back if we did make a mistake on defense. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids’ efforts tonight.”
Whalen ran the ball eight times for 164 yards and two TDs and he added one catch for 64 yards and another score. Tyler Black also topped the 100-yard mark with 121 yards on eight carries, while Rowe added 84 yards on 21 totes with three TDs.
In addition to the job turned in by the offensive line of A.J. Brandt, Christen Ruf, Eli Humphrey, Hayden Black, John Sturtz and Michael Ruf, Coach Zywicki also cited the blocking that all three running backs did for one another during the game.
Defensively, the Redbirds limited the Pointers to 143 yards on the ground and 29 yards through the air on the night. Hardyman led the way with 10 tackles, and Rowe added nine tackles with two stops for loss and caused a fumble. Dylan Nyffenegger also had a sack for the ‘Birds.
Last Friday’s victory locked up a playoff berth for Darlington for the fourth consecutive season and kept the Redbirds unbeaten in conference play heading into their Homecoming showdown with Cuba City at Martens Field on Friday, Sept. 30.
“Goal number one has been reach,” stated Zywicki about securing a playoff berth with their fourth straight win. “You have to be satisfied with that, but you can’t get complacent. You can get soft in a hurry. We want to keep our momentum going.”
The Cubans (6-0, 4-0) are currently ranked fifth in Division 5 and are averaging 36.8 points per game on offense while allowing just 3.2 ppg. on defense.
“It adds to the excitement,” said Zywicki about playing the unbeaten Cubans on Homecoming, an event which has traditionally been a problem for the Redbirds. “We have a real shot this week if we continue to play well. We’ll let the chips fall where they may. They’re kids. They deserve to participate in the homecoming festivities and all that comes with it. But, when the time comes, they have to focus on football.”
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Darlington……. 26 8 13 0 - 47
Mineral Point… 6 0 8 0 - 14
D – Mitchell Whalen, 67 run (Zach McArthur kick)
D – Whalen, 60 run (kick failed)
D – Seth Rowe, 13 run (run failed)
MP – Schmitz, 11 run (kick failed)
D – Whalen, 64 pass from McArthur (McArthur kick)
D – Brandon Hardyman, 6 pass from McArthur (Michael Ruf pass from Whalen)
MP – Poad, 55 punt return (Poad pass from Bertram)
D – Rowe, 2 run (McArthur kick)
D – Rowe, 11 run (kick failed)
Team Stats: First Downs- D 17; MP 10. Rushing- D 51-404; MP 34-143. Passing- D 3-3-0, 84; MP 4-10-1, 29. Fumbles-Lost- D 0; MP 1. Penalties- D 9-66, MP 5-30.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Mitchell Whalen, 8-164-2; Tyler Black 8-121-0, Seth Rowe 21-84-3. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Zach McArthur, 3-3-0-2, 84. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- Whalen 1-64-1; Brandon Hardyman, 2-20-1.