DARLINGTON – If you’re going to have any chance to slow down Darlington’s high-powered offensive attack, the first order of business is slow down senior running back Hunter Johnson.
Cuba City was unable to do that on Friday night as Johnson scored five times on offense in the first half– and once more on defense– to lead the #2-ranked Redbirds over the visiting Cubans, 63-20, in a SWAL prep football game at DHS’ Martens Field on Sept. 16.
Johnson ran for 360 yards on just 13 carries and scored four touchdowns on the ground, hauled in one catch for 45 yards and another score, and returned an interception 70 yards for a sixth touchdown of the first half to lead the Redbirds out to a 42-7 halftime lead
“I didn’t know how we were going to play tonight. We were very quiet in warm-ups and I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. They sure showed me it was a good thing. They certainly had their focus from the beginning of the game. They did some nice things on both sides of the ball,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
Johnson got the Redbirds (5-0 overall, 2-0 SWAL) off and running on their opening play from scrimmage, taking a handoff and racing 80 yards to pay dirt to put his team ahead 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.
On Darlington’s second possession, he capped a nine-play, 80-yard trek with a 1-yard blast into the end zone; and, on the Redbirds’ third drive, he hauled in a pass from quarterback Jared Meister and raced 45 yards for a score to extend the lead to 21-0 with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“(Hunter’s) a man among boys out there. We like to get him out on the perimeter and off tackle. That’s where he does most of his damage. At his size, he runs away from interior linemen and even the defensive backs can’t catch him when he gets out in the open. You’re asking a lot of a defensive back to bring him down in the open field, especially when he has a head of steam,” noted Zywicki.
Johnson ripped off a 96-yard scoring jaunt early in the second quarter to make it 28-0, but the Cubans (2-3, 2-1) answered right back with a quick strike of their own on their very next play with junior running back Kordell Stillmunkes showing his own combination of strength and speed on an 81-yard scoring scamper to cut the deficit to 28-7 with 10:01 remaining in the half.
“(Stillmunkes) is one heck of an athlete. You have to do a lot of good things to keep him corralled and in check. He proved he has the ability to be the next star in our league,” noted Zywicki.
The Cubans forced a rare Redbird punt and marched back into Darlington territory on their next drive, but Johnson ended the threat– and any hope of a Cuban comeback– by picking off an Andy Clendenen pass at the 30-yard line and taking it all the way back for a TD to put the ‘Birds up 35-7.
Darlington got the ball back on a punt with just 20 seconds remaining in the half, but that was more than enough time for Johnson to find the end zone once more as he closed his jaw-dropping first-half performance with a 73-yard TD run that made it 42-7.
“I thought our kids played very well. The offensive line moved people off the ball, and the defense gave our offense many opportunities with three and outs. And, we took advantage of those opportunities,” Zywicki commented.
Senior Trevor Johnson had a 40-yard TD run and junior Kameron Blosch added TD runs of 3 and 4 yards in the second half to account for the rest of the Redbirds’ scoring on the night.
Junior Ryan Hoppman scored from 9 yards out late in the third quarter and senior Jacob Paquette capped a 12-play, 70-yard scoring march with a 5-yard TD run as the Cubans put up a season-high 20 points against the Redbirds’ defense. Darlington had allowed just 19 total points in their previous four games this season.
The Redbirds finished the night with 516 rushing yards on a mere 34 carries (15.2 ypc.) led by H. Johnson’s 360-yard performance, which pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career. He is currently second in the state in rushing with 1,142 yards, and his 21 rushing TDs and 23 overall TDs lead the state.
T. Johnson added 82 yards on four carries with a TD, while Blosch ran nine times for 35 yards and two scores.
The Cubans finished with 243 rushing yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns against a defense which had allowed just 201 yards and one TD in their first four games. Stillmunkes led the way with 146 yards and a TD on 15 carries.
Darlington heads to Boscobel for a SWAL game against the Bulldogs (1-4, 1-2) on Friday, Sept. 23. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. A win will make the Redbirds playoff eligible.
“I love the way the guys prepare for the game each week. You have to make sure they respect every opponent and not take anybody lightly,” stated Zywicki. “My job as their coach is to keep them focused not on the opponent but on the process. It’s all about getting better each week. We’re not going to worry about the talent level of any opponent. That’s our focus. It’ll be a challenge to maintain that focus and to get better so we’re ready for the playoffs.”
Cuba City…. 0 7 6 7 – 20
Darlington… 21 21 14 7 – 63
D – Hunter Johnson, 80 run (Connor McGowan kick)
D – H. Johnson, 1 run (McGowan kick)
D – H. Johnson, 45 pass from Jared Meister (McGowan kick)
D – H. Johnson, 95 run (McGowan kick)
CC – Kordell Stillmunkes, 81 run (Nate Timmerman kick)
D – H. Johnson, 70 interception return (McGowan kick)
D – H. Johnson, 73 run (McGowan kick)
D – Trevor Johnson, 40 run (McGowan kick)
D – Kameron Blosch, 3 run (McGowan kick)
CC – Ryan Hoppenjan, 9 run (kick failed)
D – Blosch, 4 run (McGowan kick)
CC – Jacob Paquette, 5 run (Timmerman kick)
Team Stats: First Downs– CC 11, D 9. Rushing– CC 37-243; D 34-516. Passing– CC 4-10-1, 45; D 2-2-0, 47. Fumbles-Lost– CC 4-1; D 2-0. Penalties- CC 3-15; D 2-15.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Hunter Johnson, 13-360-4; Trevor Johnson, 4-82-1; Kameron Blosch, 9-35-2. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Jared Meister, 2-2-0-1, 47. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– H. Johnson, 1-45-1.