DARLINGTON – Westby’s kicking game wasn’t always sharp in Friday’s season opener against Darlington, but when the Norsemen need it the most the kicker was dead solid perfect.
Senior Grant Dayton connected on a 23-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lift the visiting Norsemen over the Redbirds, 15-14, in a non-conference season-opening prep football game at Martens Field on Friday, Aug. 18.
“It was disappointing. We had our opportunities, but we didn’t execute,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki.
Already leading 14-12, the Redbirds (0-1 overall) appeared poised to put the game away after senior running back Grady Rielly’s 41-yard run moved the team inside the red zone with under six minutes to play. Two more runs brought the ‘Birds down to the Westby 11, but a lost fumbled snap opened the door for the Norsemen comeback.
Starting with 5:10 remaining on the clock, Westby went on an 18-play, 83-yard drive down to the Darlington 6; and then, on 4th-and-goal from the 6 with five seconds to play, Dayton split the uprights on a 23-yard kick to sink the ‘Birds.
“I didn’t think they were physically better than us, but we certainly did not execute at all. That’s where the disappointment comes in. So many kids didn’t know what they’re doing,” Zywicki stated. “I’m not happy with that. They’re not preparing like they need to off the field to know their assignments. There is a lack of discipline in our kids. They think they can just go through the motions and be successful because we’re Darlington and that doesn’t work that way.”
Some growing pains were expected after losing 11 All-SWAL players and 17 seniors from last year’s team, which finished as runner-up in Division 6 for the fourth straight season. With nine new starters on offense and 10 new starters on defense, there was bound to be some early bumps in the road for these ‘Birds.
“There’s plenty to clean up. The good thing is we can get a lot better. There was good effort at times, but we need to clean up the little things,” replied Zywicki.
Westby (1-0) marched 94 yards on 13 plays on their second possession of the game to take an early lead on Alex Gluch’s 14-yard scoring strike to Devontae Spears. The extra point kick was blocked to keep the score at 6-0 with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Darlington evened the score at six all midway through the second quarter on Rielly’s 4-yard TD jaunt. The ‘Birds also missed the PAT to keep the score knotted at 6-6, and that’s where it stayed the rest of the first half.
Rielly put the Redbirds into the lead midway through the third quarter when he picked off a Gluch pass and returned it 52 yards to pay dirt. Blake Whalen hit Brogan Evenstad for the conversion to put the ‘Birds on top 14-6.
Westby answered right back with a 6-yard TD run by Gluch on their next drive to cut the deficit to 14-12, but Darlington stopped their two-point attempt to maintain the lead.
The Redbirds outgained Westby on the ground, 161-152, and won the turnover battle with a 4-1 advantage, however the Norsemen outgained the ‘Birds through the air, 163-37, to finish with over 300 total yards on the night.
Rielly gained 81 yards on nine carries with a TD to guide the Darlington offensive attack. Kameron Blosch, who had an 80-yard TD called back due to a penalty in the third quarter, added 56 yards on 14 carries and had an interception and a fumble recovery on defense.
Whalen was 5-for-12 through the air for 37 with Stryker Fitzsimons making two catches for 17 yards. Whalen also had an interception on defense.
Darlington heads to Prairie du Chien (1-0) on Friday, Aug. 25, to take on the Blackhawks in a non-conference game beginning at 7 p.m. PcD defeated Aquinas, 32-14, in their opener.
Westby……… 6 0 6 3 – 15
Darlington….. 0 6 8 0 – 14
W – Spears, 14 pass from Gluch (kick failed)
D – Grady Rielly, 4 run (kick failed)
D – Rielly, 52 interception return (Brogan Evenstad pass from Blake Whalen)
W – Gluch, 6 run (pass failed)
W – Dayton, 23 field goal
Team Stats: First Downs– W 15; D 8. Rushing– W 44-152; D 32-161. Passing– W 10-23-3, 163; D 5-12-0, 37. Fumbles-Lost– W 3-1; D 2-1. Penalties– W 5-30, D 3-15.
Darlington: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Grady Rielly, 9-81-1; Kameron Blosch, 14-56-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Blake Whalen, 5-12-0-0, 37. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Stryker Fitzsimons, 2-17-0.