DARLINGTON – Top-ranked Darlington got off and running early in Friday’s Level 2 game against SWAL rival Mineral Point and would not be stopped.
The Redbirds (11-0 overall) scored on their first eight offensive possessions to run down the Pointers (8-3), 55-28, in a WIAA Division 6 playoff football game at Martens Field on Friday, Oct. 29.
“We played a very good ballgame. Our offense was unstoppable. They’ve been great all year. It’s a good thing we can hang our hats (on offense) because we made some mistakes on the other two facets of the game. It was harder than it needed to be. We need to get better in a lot of areas,” admitted Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
Junior halfback Hunter Johnson fueled the Redbirds’ relentless rushing attack by running for 199 yards and four touchdowns (38, 2, 5 and 40 yards). Senior fullback Conrad Blosch churned out 119 yards and two touchdowns (4 and 2), while junior halfback Trevor Johnson (19) and junior quarterback Jared Meister (50) each ran for over 50 yards and a score for the ‘Birds.
“Offensively, we’re firing on all cylinders. We’re tough to stop if we can hang on to the football,” Zywicki said. “We’re multi-dimensional. It’s going to take a really good defense to stop us completely.”
The Darlington defense came up with a big play right off the bat with junior defensive back Brayden McDonald picking off a Scott Pittz pass at the Darlington 45-yard line on the opening play of the game.
Four Redbird runs later, H. Johnson raced in from 38 yards out to put the hosts up 6-0.
Undaunted, Coach Andy Palzkill’s Pointers answered right back to briefly take the lead. A 72-yard run by running back Lucas Sanchez down to the Redbird 5 led off the Pointers’ second drive, and then, following a penalty and a negative run, Pittz teamed with Steven Blume on an 11-yard TD pass to put the guests in front 7-6.
Their lead stood for less than two minutes as Meister ran around, through and over the Pointer D on a dazzling 50-yard TD scamper to put the ‘Birds back on top. H. Johnson added the conversion to make it 14-7, and Darlington never trailed again.
After fumbling away a Pointer punt after a defensive stop, the Redbirds got the ball right back and returned to the end zone. H. Johnson capped a couple of long scoring drives with a pair of short TD runs to go up 28-7 midway though the second quarter.
The Pointers cut into the Redbirds’ lead before the intermission when Pittz hooked up with Blume on another 11-yard score to make it 28-14 with 2:53 to play in the half.
That left just enough time for the ‘Birds to respond and respond they did with a nine-play, 68-yard trek, which ended with T. Johnson hitting pay dirt from 19 yards out with just :02 remaining to put the hosts up 35-14.
Blosch sandwiched his TD runs of 4 and 2 yards around a 40-yard jaunt by H. Johnson to extend the lead to 55-14 by the end of the third quarter.
Pittz connected with Lance Steffes on a 2-yard pass and with Blume on a 65-yard bomb in the fourth quarter to close the final gap to 55-28.
“It’s not that we aren’t playing good defense. It’s just coming in spurts because we have some lapses,” explained Zywicki. “We have the athletes to be able to make the plays on the field. We just didn’t make them consistently tonight.”
Pittz finished 16-of-26 through the air for 224 yards with four TDs, but he also threw three interceptions- two by McDonald and another by T. Johnson. On the ground, the Pointers gained 115 yards on 17 carries, but 72 of those yards came on one run. Darlington held them to negative yards on six other plays.
“The defense showed some holes today. We have to get much better. It was an uneven performance tonight,” said Zywicki.
Hayden Hardyman and Jesse Sturtz each recorded six tackles to lead the ‘Birds, while Meister tallied five stops and H. Johnson and Tyler Osterday registered four tackles apiece.
On the offensive side of the ball, Darlington rolled up 434 rushing yards on 45 carries and added 65 passing yards for 499 total yards on the night.
H. Johnson moved up to fifth in the state in rushing with 1,983 yards and is currently tied for second with 35 TDs. T. Johnson is approaching the 1,000-yard mark after gaining 58 yards on just five carries, while Blosch has a chance to reach 1,000 yards as well at over 800 yards for the season.
Meister ran twice for 53 yards and completed 3-of-6 passes for 65 yards. H. Johnson had two catches for 26 yards for the ‘Birds, who have won nine consecutive games against the Pointers.
Next up, the Redbirds will play host to #7-seeded Cambridge at Martens Field on Friday, Nov. 6. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Blue Jays (7-4) have been giant-killers of late, winning three straight games to advance to Level 3 for the second year in a row and the third time since 2011 when they knocked off the top-seeded Redbirds, 44-43, in a double-overtime thriller at Darlington.
After defeating Marshall, 35-7, in their regular season finale to keep the Cardinals from winning the Capitol South outright, Cambridge edged #2-seed Cuba City, 14-7, in Level 1 and #3-seed Lake Country Lutheran, 16-13, in overtime in Level 2 to get another shot at the top-seeded Redbirds.
“From here on out, it’ll come down to the performance of our defense and special teams. We’ll see if we have the kids on that end to hold whoever we play at bay and let our offense do the work,” Zywicki noted.
Friday’s winner will advance to face the winner of the Level 3 contest between #2-ranked Pecatonica/Argyle (11-0) and Melrose-Mindoro (9-2), which will be played at Argyle on Saturday, Nov. 7, starting at 2 p.m.
WIAA DIVISION 6 LEVEL 2 PLAYOFFS
Mineral Point… 7 7 0 14 – 28
Darlington……. 14 21 20 0 – 55
D – Hunter Johnson, 38 run (kick failed)
MP – Blume, 11 pass from Pittz (Cox kick)
D – Jared Meister, 50 run (H. Johnson run)
D – H. Johnson, 2 run (Golackson kick)
D – H. Johnson, 5 run (Golackson kick)
MP – Blume, 11 pass from Pittz (Cox kick)
D – Trevor Johnson, 19 run (Golackson kick)
D – Conrad Blosch, 4 run (Golackson kick)
D – H. Johnson, 40 run (Golackson kick)
D – Conrad Blosch, 2 run (kick failed)
MP – Steffes, 2 pass from Pittz (Cox kick)
MP – Blume, 65 pass from Pittz (Cox kick)
Team Stats: First Downs– MP 11; D 16. Rushing– MP 17-115; D 45-434. Passing– MP 16-26-3, 224; D 3-6-0, 65. Fumbles-Lost– MP 1-0; D 2-1. Penalties– MP 4-25, D 3-35.
Darlington leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Hunter Johnson, 19-199-4; Conrad Blosch, 13-119-2; Trevor Johnson, 5-58-1; Jared Meister, 2-53-1. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Meister, 3-6-0-0, 65. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Hayden Hardyman, 1-39-0.