MIFFLIN — Each time Darlington seemed on the verge of grabbing momentum in Saturday’s WIAA Division 6 Level 3 playoff game, Iowa–Grant had the answer.
Senior Derek Peat rushed 92 yards and three touchdowns, and junior Eli Wienkes made a back-breaking 15-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to catapult the Panthers to a convincing 32–15 victory, their second over their SWAL rival this year.
Peat’s 48-yard yard touchdown run with 5:19 left put the final nail in the Darlington coffin just one play after the Redbirds failed to recover and onside kick after pulling within 25–15 on a Myles Leachy 21-yard TD run 10 seconds earlier.
With the win these Panthers became the first team in school history to win three games in a single postseason, and the first to reach a state semifinal since 1979, when I–G lost the Division 4 state championship to Howards Grove 40–14.
Iowa–Grant’s 2008 squad, coached by Aaron Mack, defeated Pardeeville and La Crosse Aquinas to reach Level 3 before succumbing to local powerhouse Lancaster.
This year’s team harkens back to the days of I–G’s gridiron glory of the late ’70s when the Panthers played for three state titles in a four-year span (1976, 1977 and 1979) winning it all with a 30–8 victory over Denmark in 1977.
This year’s team can join that elite group of state qualifiers with a victory on Saturday.
The Panthers (9–2) will face undefeated St. Mary’s Springs (11–0) at Middleton at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s exciting to be playing in games like this,” said Iowa–Grant head coach Gary Allen. “It’s also very exciting for our community. These are the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around. They believe that hard work gets you where you want to go.”
The Ledgers are averaging 49.5 points per game and have outscored their three playoff opponents 132–6, including a 24–0 shutout of Shiocton in last week’s Level 3 win. St. Mary’s Springs’ defense has recorded four shutouts this year and has allowed just 45 points (4.1 per game) all year.
“St. Mary Springs is a very good team. They are quick and explosive,” said Allen. “We will need to play very well in all phases.”
Junior Cody Rider scored Saturday’s first TD on a 6-yard run with 1:09 left in the first quarter.
Peat’s 12-yard TD midway through the second quarter gave the Panthers a 13–0 halftime lead.
Darlington scored on a 68-yard TD pass from Cole McDonald to Jason Singer less than a minute into the third quarter, but I–G responded with an eight-play, 72-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard plunge by Peat.
WIAA Division 6, Level 3 Playoff
Iowa–Grant 32, Darlington 15
(from Saturday, Nov. 3 @ Iowa–Grant)
5) Darlington 0 0 7 8 — 15
3) Iowa–Grant 7 6 6 13 — 32
IG: Cody Rider 6 run (Rider kick)
IG: Derek Peat 12 run (kick failed)
D: Singer 68 pass from McDonarld (Black kick)
IG: Peat 1 run (run failed)
IG: Eli Wienkes 15 interception return (Rider kick)
D: Leahy 21 run (Singer run)
IG: Peat 48 run (Rider kick)
First downs: D 5, IG 12. Rushing: D 28-126, IG 53-276. Passing Yards: D 84, IG 8. Passing: D 3-9-3, IG 1-2-0. Fumbles–lost: D 1-1, IG 0-0. Penalties-yards: D n/a-50, IG n/a-25.
Rushing: D: Leahy 9-51, Singer 9-42; IG: Tucker Sarbacker 22-133, Derek Peat 15-92. Passing: D: McDonald 3-8-2, 84; IG: Derek Peat 1-2-0, 8. Receiving: D: Singer 3-84; Dakota Barnes 1-8.