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Redbirds get defensive against Lancaster
Lancaster v Redbirds
Lancaster quarterback Nolan Wolf carried much of the offensive load for the Flying Arrows last Friday night. photo by Natalie Dillon

DARLINGTON – Despite being limited to 191 yards of total offense and just one offensive score, coach Jordon Rolland’s Flying Arrow football team made the host Redbirds more than a little nervous throughout last Friday night’s division 6, level 3 playoff game.

Lancaster’s hopes of a second straight upset ended with an interception on their final possession of the game, giving host Darlington a 28-22 victory and a date in this week’s state semifinals.

The Arrows concluded the season with an overall record of 10-2 after going 5-1 in Southwest Wisconsin Conference action to finish second in the final league standings.

Following convincing playoff wins over Cambridge and Kenosha St. Joseph, the Arrows had all they could handle against a tough Darlington team last Friday night.

Limited to just 191 yards of total offense, the Arrows had a difficult time moving the ball against the Redbird defense, who keyed on fullback Peyton Alvarado all night long.

How Darlington chose to defend Alvarado was to have their entire defensive front slant to one side or the other, creating tackling lanes for their linebackers, who were typically left unblocked.

“We didn’t do a good job of getting to their linebackers all night,” said Lancaster coach Jordon Rolland. “They had three really good linebackers and I think they were their three leading tacklers.”

Alvarado, who averaged 167.1 rushing yards per game coming into Friday night’s contest, was held to just 66 yards on 17 carries Friday night. In the second half alone, he had 21 yards on seven carries.

Junior quarterback Nolan Wolf stepped up in a big way for the Arrows, rushing for a team-high 95 yards and one touchdown on 16 rushing attempts, after averaging 58.3 yards rushing per game during the season.

On Lancaster’s first offensive possession of the game, Wolf led the Arrows down the field and into the end zone, capping off a 10-play, 77-yard, scoring drive with a 17-yard TD run. The two-point conversion run failed, leaving Lancaster with a 6-0 lead with 7:54 to play in the opening quarter.

“Nolan is a very capable runner and we probably should have just kept rolling with him and not force Peyton as much, but Peyton is also a kid that got us here,” coach Rolland explained.

Unfortunately for the Arrows, that was their first and only offensive score of the game, as penalties proved difficult to overcome in drives that followed.

“We had some interesting false start calls that put us behind the sticks and eventually forced us to punt,”said Rolland. “Every drive that we punted on we started with a false start on the first play of the drive.”

Darlington responded on their ensuing possession, taking an 8-6 lead on a Reagan Jackson touchdown run and successful two-point conversion attempt.

Forced to punt on their next offensive possession, Lancaster’s special teams unit came up big, when Semaj Venson recovered the fumbled return attempt in the end zone for six points. A two-point conversion pass from Nolan Wolf to Logan Wolf gave the Arrows a 14-8 lead heading into the second quarter.

The Redbirds then went on a critical 20-0 scoring run to claim a 28-14 lead with 1:02 to play in the third quarter.

Again, Lancaster’s special teams would come up big, as junior Brennen Gildersleeve received the ensuing kick off and took it straight up the middle for an 81-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass from Wolf to Wolf pulled the Arrows to within 28-22 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.

Though neither team scored in the fourth quarter, Lancaster seemingly had things going in their favor when they took possession of the ball at their own six-yard line with 7:51 to play in the contest.

Using eight plays, the Arrows pushed the ball up to the 40-yard line, where they were faced with a fourth-and-one with 2:58 to play in the contest. 

A gutsy hard-nosed run by Alvarado kept the drive alive with a four-yard gain, but then on first down, a pass attempt by Nolan Wolf was picked off by Darlington’s Tye Crist in the middle of the field. It was Wolf’s only pass attempt of the entire second half.

On three straight running plays, Darlington overcame two Lancaster timeouts with a critical first down that allowed them to run out the remaining seconds and secure the victory.

The Redbirds finished the night with 310 yards of total offense, getting 277 yards on 52 rushing attempts. Together, the two teams combined to throw just four passing attempts, Lancaster going 1-of-3 for 29 yards and Darlington 1-of-1 for 33 yards.

Coach Rolland loses a group of nine seniors from this year’s Lancaster team, and their contribution to a very good season has not gone unnoticed.

“When you look at the production from our seniors, it’s pretty impressive,” Rolland said. “Nearly every position group was anchored by a senior, except for the receivers, so we were definitely led by that group, that I don’t think a lot of people thought much of coming into the year.”

Playing in their final high school football game last Friday night were: Peyton Alvarado, Logan Wolf, Brady Sperle, Colby Lull, Jackson VanNatta, Devin Tydrich, Andrew Spurgeon, Connor Raisbeck and Will Bussan.