LIVINGSTON – The Iowa–Grant Panthers used a gritty defensive effort to score a key 12-6 SWAL victory over visiting Darlington at IGHS on Friday, Sept. 7.
The Panthers limited the Redbirds to just seven first downs and less than 200 yards of offense and held the visitors scoreless in the second half to improve to 2-1 overall and remain unbeaten at 2-0 in SWAL play. Darlington fell to 1-2, 1-1.
I–G only completed 1-of-6 passes on the night and was held to just two touchdowns of its own by an equally physical Darlington defense.
“I couldn’t be happier with the effort that our kids gave in the game even when things didn’t seem to go our way. They never quit or gave in even when we didn’t get some of the calls we expected to get,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
But the Panthers did rush for 241 yards and were able to control the clock and field position for most of the game.
“Our offensive line came off the ball well and they played as a unit,” said Iowa–Grant head coach Gary Allen. “Our backs ran very hard and broke a few tackles. For the most part we tackled well also.”
Iowa–Grant scored on its second drive of the game when senior halfback Derek Peat broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run and a 6–0 Panther lead.
The drive was set up when I–G junior Cody Rider pinned Darlington at its own 5-yard line on a punt earlier in the quarter.
Darlington took advantage of a Panthers miscue early in the second quarter and used a short field to score its only touchdown of the game.
The Redbirds recovered a fumbled snap at the I–G 32-yard-line, but still needed a fourth down conversion to find the end zone.
On 4th-and-1, Cole McDonald hit halfback Storm Wiegel on a swing pass and the speedy senior turned it into six points. After a false start penalty on the PAT Darlington’s extra point fell short and the game was tied at 6–6.
Late in the first half, junior quarterback T.J. Anderson gave the Panthers a 12–6 lead on a 3-yard option keeper. The drive was aided by a 30-yard run by Tucker Sarbacker and an 18-yard pickup by Peat.
The second half played out as a defensive battle as the two teams combined to punt three times and make three fourth down stands.
“I think both teams just buckled down on defense [in the second half],” said Allen. “It was a very physical game.”
The Panthers had the best scoring chance after halftime but a 4th-and-10 pass from Anderson went through the hands of a wide-open Trent Milliken in the end zone late in the third quarter.
Darlington drove to the I–G 33-yard-line on the ensuing drive, but the Panther defense stuffed junior Kyle Johnson on 4th-and-4.
The teams then exchanged punts before the Iowa–Grant offense put the game away with a 12-play drive that ran the final 5:20 off the clock.
“I think that our kids grew up a little today and showed a physical side that had been missing in some of the other games. I thought that we got better as the game went on. We just needed more time. We still need to clean up some of the mental mistakes that we are making during the games. When we do that we can compete with any team in our area,” Zywicki stated.
Myles Leahy finished with 87 rushing yards on 17 carries to lead the Redbirds’ ground attack, while Wiegel hauled in two catches for 30 yards and a touchdown to lead the air attack. McDonald completed 3-for-7 passes for 43 yards and a score.
Peat led the Panthers with 119 yards on 22 carries with a TD.
“Offensively we made some minor adjustments in our blocking and were able to move the ball especially after halftime, but at critical times we would miss a block or make a mental error that would cost us. We need a consistent effort from all our players and we will be able to move the ball against anyone,” commented Zywicki.
“(On defense), we were very aggressive ripping at the ball trying to create turnovers even though we didn’t get several calls. Our secondary had an excellent game covering the pass and helping with run support. The linebackers were very active and did a great job of reading their keys. I thought the line did a nice job of occupying their linemen and we made some exceptional plays. If we continue to play defense like this we could be a much-improved team by the end of the year.”
Michael Ruf recorded eight tackles and recovered a fumble to lead the Darlington D.
Kyle Johnson added seven tackles and Riley Ray tacked on six stops with one for a loss for the ‘Birds.
Darlington returns home to host Boscobel in SWAL action on Friday, Sept. 14. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
R.J. sports editor Tom Gunnell contributed to this story.
Darlington.... 0 6 0 0 - 6
Iowa-Grant... 6 6 0 0 - 12
IG – Peat, 34 run (kick failed)
D – Storm Wiegel, 25 pass from Cole McDonald (pass failed)
IG – Anderson, 3 run (kick failed)
Team Stats: First Downs- D 7; IG 14. Rushing- D 38-128; IG 45-241. Passing- D 3-7-0, 43; IG 1-6-0, 5. Fumbles-Lost- D 0-0; IG 1-1. Penalties- D 5-28, IG 1-10.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Storm Wiegel, 20-107-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Cole McDonald, 3-7-0-1, 43. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- Wiegel 2-30-1.