DARLINGTON — On a torturous 90-degree day, soaked with nearly 100 percent humidity and blazing sunshine beating down on the field, Platteville fought through the taxing conditions and the home-standing Darlington Redbirds.
Senior Blake Wagner threw two touchdowns and ran for a third in his first varsity start at quarterback to lead the Hillmen to a 35–19 non-conference victory Friday afternoon at Darlington’s Martens Field in the season-opener for both teams.
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Wagner was clutch time and time again, converting three fourth downs, two with his feet, and a third with a 5-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior Chance Kupersmith on a perfectly thrown fade route.
Senior Jacob Bernhardt added a 3-yard TD midway through the second quarter and returned the opening kickoff of the second half 75 yards to the house to aid the Platteville win.
“The heat and humidity made for very tough conditions to play in,” said Platteville head coach Scott Statz. “Our kids persevered, we were very pleased with that.
Early on it looked like the new-look Platteville defense might be in for a long afternoon.
Darlington repeatedly gashed the Platteville defensive front in the first half for big gains on the fullback trap and also hit a long-gainer in the pass game when senior Cole McDonald connected on a 30-yard pass play with senior tight end Ben Muhlstein.
One play after the McDonald-to-Muhlstein completion, senior fullback Slade Norton broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run. Platteville blocked the extra point, but the Redbirds led 6–0 with 6:04 left in the first quarter.
Platteville answered with a 10-play, 56-yard drive, that included a 30-yard Bernhardt run on 4th-and-5. Wagner capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run on a naked bootleg, eluding one Darlington defender in the backfield and breaking a tackle at the goalline (picture on 12A). Tyler Brookens added the PAT to make it 7–6.
Platteville converted another fourth down on its next drive —a seven-yard scramble by Wagner on 4th-and-5 —and scored on a Bernhardt 3-yard run with 6:17 left in the half.
Darlington drove the length of the field using gains of 25 and 14 yards by Norton and pulled with two points with 1:24 left in the half when McDonald tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cole Whalen. The conversion run failed and Platteville led 14–12 at halftime.
The second-half started with a bang as Bernhardt returned the opening kickoff 75 yards to make it 21–12. But Darlington’s Jason Singer had the answer, returning the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a score to make it 21–19 just 15 seconds later.
Platteville converted again on fourth down to extend its next drive. A Wagner run on 4th-and-5 was good for six yards, and two plays later he tossed a 31-yard TD pass to Kupersmith, who was all alone behind the Darlington defense.
The Platteville defense was much better in the second half forcing three consecutive punts without allowing a first down.
The Hillmen put the game away with 5:33 to play when Wagner connected with Kupersmith from five yards out on 4th-and-5 — Platteville’s fourth fourth-down conversion of the game.
“The key to the game was once we settled down defensively and played more disciplined Darlington struggled to move the ball,” said Statz. “Our defense needs to understand they have to do their job first,then get to the football, we had too many players guessing on plays.”
Platteville will host the Holmen Vikings (1–0) this Thursday night at Cuba City High School at 7 p.m. Holmen — a Division 2 school with an enrollment of 1,112 — is coming off a 14–13 victory over Chippewa Falls.
Platteville 35, Darlington 19
(from Friday, Aug. 22 @ Darlington)
Platteville 7 7 14 7 — 35
Darlington 6 6 7 0 — 19
D: Slade Norton 42 run (kick blocked)
P: Blake Wagner 1 run (Tyler Brookens kick)
P: Jacob Bernhardt 3 run (Brookens kick)
D: Hunter Whalen 11 pass from Cole McDonald (run failed)
P: Bernhardt 75 kick return (Brookens kick)
D: Jason Singer 87 kick return (Singer kick)
P: Chance Kupersmith 21 pass from Wagner (Brookens kick)
P: Kupersmith 8 pass from Wagner (Brookens kick)
First downs — P 9, D 5. Rushing — P 48-236, D 27-87. Passing Yards — P 31, D 39. Passing — P 3-6-0, D 3-7-0. Fumbles–lost — P 1-1, D 0-0. Penalties-yards — P 9-87, D 1-10.
Rushing — P: Jacob Bernhardt 15-82, Jason Withrow 11-73; Norton 9-101. Passing — P: Blake Wagner 3-6-0, 31; D: McDonald 3-7-0, 39. Receiving — P: Chance Kupersmith 2-29; D: Muhlstein 1-20.