DARLINGTON – In the end, the margin of victory came down to a single yard.
Darlington defenders Brandon Hardyman, Cedric Flesher and Mitchell Langkamp stuffed Iowa-Grant’s Brandon Pierick on a two-point conversion run midway through the fourth quarter to preserve a two-point lead, and the Redbirds were able to hold on and knock off the previously unbeaten and #9-ranked Panthers, 28-26, in a SWAL showdown at Martens Field on Friday, Sept. 9.
The Redbirds (2-2 overall, 2-0 in SWAL) needed just 16 seconds late in the first half to turn a 14-13 lead into a 28-13 advantage, but the ‘Birds had to work hard the entire 24 minutes of the second half to make sure that lead stood up.
The Panthers (3-1, 1-1), closed the gap to 28-20 with just over two minutes to play in the third quarter on a 15-yard touchdown run by Derek Peat.
Then, with 4:42 remaining in the game, I-G made things very interesting when quarterback Blake Welu scrambled in from three yards out to cut the gap to 28-26. The Panthers tried for the tie, but Pierick got stopped a yard shy of the goal line by a trio of Redbird defenders to keep the hosts in the lead.
The Panthers got the ball back on an interception at their own 11-yard line with 1:38 to play. However, after a sack by Seth Rowe and Dylan Nyffenegger and two incompletions, Hardyman knocked down a Welu pass on fourth down to seal the victory.
“Our young men battled today,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki. “It wasn’t always pretty. We gave up some plays, but we also made the plays we needed to make and came up with some critical stops.”
Senior Mitchell Whalen got the Redbirds rolling with an 80-yard punt return touchdown just four minutes into the game. Zach McArthur added the first of four key extra-point kicks to put the hosts ahead 7-0.
I-G tied the game at seven all on a 2-yard TD run by Logan Bollant on the second play of the second quarter.
The Redbirds regained the lead at 14-7 on an 8-yard rumble by Rowe, but the Panthers came right back with a 10-yard TD run by Bollant to pull within one at 14-13. The PAT failed, leaving the ‘Birds in front.
McArthur added to the Redbirds’ lead on their next possession when he hooked up with tight end Michael Ruf on a 12-yard scoring strike to make it 21-13 with 4:08 to play in the second quarter.
Nyffenegger recovered a Panther fumble at the IG 28 on the ensuing kickoff, and senior Tyler Black scored on the very next play to put the hosts ahead 28-13 with 3:52 remaining in the half.
Black finished with a game-high 90 yards on 11 carries with a TD and Rowe ran the ball 14 times for 78 yards and a score for the Redbirds, who gained 186 yards on 36 carries on the ground.
McArthur completed 5-of-11 passes for 63 yards and a score with three interceptions to guide the air attack.
The Redbirds’ special teams units also played major roles in the victory. In addition to Whalen’s punt return TD and McArthur 4-for-4 day on extra points, the ‘Birds kick return unit also recovered three pivotal onside kick attempts by the Panthers– two by sophomore Riley Ray and one by sophomore Weston Ritchie.
“We had to work hard the entire game. Iowa-Grant is one heck of a team. Our kids just kept plugging away. We bent, but we didn’t break,” said Zywicki.
Darlington heads to Boscobel to face the Bulldogs (0-2, 0-4) in a SWAL contest at on Friday, Sept. 16. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Iowa-Grant… 0 13 7 6 - 26
Darlington…. 7 21 0 0 - 28
D – Mitchell Whalen, 80 punt return (Zach McArthur kick)
IG – Bollant, 2 run (Rider kick)
D – Seth Rowe, 8 run (McArthur kick)
IG – Bollant, 10 run (Franklin kick)
D – Michael Ruf, 12 pass from McArthur (McArthur kick)
D – Tyler Black, 28 run (McArthur kick)
IG – Peat, 16 run (Rider kick)
IG – Welu, 3 run (run failed)
Team Stats: First Downs- IG 11; D 9. Rushing- IG 41-150; D 36-186. Passing- IG 5-17-0, 57; D 5-11-3, 63. Fumbles-Lost- IG 1; D 1. Penalties- IG 1-15, D 5-60.
Darlington Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Tyler Black, 11-90-1; Seth Rowe, 14-78-1. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Zach McArthur, 5-11-3-1, 63. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- Brandon Hardyman, 2-28-0.