PLATTEVILLE — Darlington juniors Hunter Johnson and Jared Meister had a field day against Platteville in Friday’s season opener at UW–Platteville’s Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium.
Johnson broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and later took a short swing pass from Meister and turned it into a 72-yard TD reception in the third quarter.
The big-play duo propelled the visiting Redbirds to a 37–21 non-conference win, ending Platteville’s four-year winning streak over the Hillmen and in the process spoiled Kyle Craig’s debut as Platteville’s head coach.
Johnson finished the game with 161 yards rushing on 18 carries and 97 yards receiving on two receptions. Meister completed 7 of 9 passes for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win.
“Darlington was very big, very physical and very talented and when you make a few mistakes it can sort of snowball,” said Craig, who was a Hillmen defensive assistant in 2005–06 and again from 2008–2013. “When you are playing a good team like that you might be able to live with a mistake or two, but you can’t have the number we did. A couple of picks, a fumble, a number of missed tackles; it kind of piled up on us in the second half.
“We also couldn’t get off the field on defense. I don’t think they punted in the entire game. They just made plays when they had to. We would get them in third-and-long and they would make a nice run, or complete a pass to keep the chains moving. It wasn’t like they manhandled us or anything like that. They were very composed in pressure situations and they executed better than us in those crunch times.”
After Johnson’s 80-yard TD run gave Darlington a 7–0 lead just 11 seconds into the game, Platteville’s offense went three-and-out and was forced to punt.
But the Hillmen caught a break when sophomore Zach White’s punt took a fortunate bounce off the turf at Pioneer Stadium and hit a Darlington player in the back. Platteville’s Nate Digman recovered the fumble at the Redbird’s 14-yard line.
Four plays later senior quarterback Cody Schambow tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Donovan Blevins, who made a nice one-handed catch on fourth-and-goal. White’s extra point tied the game.
Darlington responded with a 15-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by Trevor Johnson’s 20-yard touchdown run with 1:33 left in the first. The Redbirds converted a pair of third downs on the drive and converted on 4th-and-inches at the Plattevile 22 to keep the drive alive.
Platteville came right back and again caught a fortunate break to tie the game.
Junior running back Luke Fugate fumbled into the end zone on 1st-and-goal, but sophomore offensive tackle Ian Carter pounced on the lose ball for a game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in the quarter, preventing of costly Hillmen turnover.
The touchdown was set up by a 54-yard Schambow pass to sophomore fullback Cameron Brant on a wheel route down the Darlington sideline.
The Platteville defense thwarted a long Darlington drive on the ensuing possession when senior Cole Gore intercepted an errant Meister pass at the Platteville 12.
But after another Hillmen three-and-out, Darlington struck again via the big play.
Junior running back Braden McDonald broke loose for a 45-yard run to set up an 18-yard Meister to Ryan Glendenning touchdown pass that made it 21–14 with 1:47 left in the half.
Platteville drove to the Darlington 26 on its ensuing possession, but turned the ball over on downs late in the half after an incomplete pass on 4th-and-6.
The Hillmen put together a nice drive to open the second half, using 12 plays to go 55 yards to reach the Darlington red zone, but Trevor Johnson made a nice leaping interception at the 5-yard line to end the Platteville scoring threat .
Three plays later Hunter Johnson took a short swing pass on 3rd-and-8, broke a tackle, side-stepped two more Hillmen defenders and turned what should have been a minimal gain into a 72-yard touchdown and a 27–14 Darlington led with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
McDonald intercepted a Schambow pass on Platteville’s very next play from scrimmage and a few minutes later the Redbirds expanded their lead to 34–14 on a 5-yard TD run by Trevor Johnson.
Chad Golackson added a 21-yard field goal on Darlington’s ensuing possession.
Platteville added a late touchdown to account for the game’s final score when Fugate broke loose for a 40-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left in the game.
“We made too many mistakes to be successful Friday night, but the good news is that it’s still early in the season, we can make some changes and we will have many opportunities to improve,” said Craig. “We are at a point in the season where the most important thing for us is to improve from day to day in practice and from quarter to quarter in games. I was happy to see that as the game went along, the kids continued to fight and play hard. They kept working. I didn’t see anyone giving up.”
Senior Jason Withrow finished Friday’s game with a team-high 73 yards rushing on 16 carries. Fugate added 59 yards on five carries.
Schambow completed 9 of 16 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted twice.
Blevins caught four passes for 38 yards and one TD. Brant caught three passes for a team-high 58 yards.
The Hillmen (0–1) will return to action Friday when they travel to Holmen for a non-conference game.
Holmen (0–1) suffered a 28–7 loss to Chippewa Falls on Friday. The Vikings defeated the Hillmen 27–0 last year during an 8–2 season.
“It’s going to be another tough test,” said Craig. “They competed for the Mississippi Valley Conference title last year and are expected to do so again this year. They are very, very fast and they have a lot of guys back from last year’s team.”
Darlington 37, Platteville 21
(from Friday, Aug. 21 @ UW–Platteville)
Darlington 14 7 13 3 — 37
Platteville 14 0 0 7 — 21
D: Hunter Johnson 80 run (Golackson kick)
P: Donovan Blevins 7 pass from Cody Schambow (Zach White kick)
D: Trevor Johnson 20 run (Golackson kick)
P: Ian Carter fumble recovery in the end zone (White kick)
D: Ryan Glendenning 18 pass from Jared Meister (Golackson kick)
D: H. Johnson 72 pass from Meister (kick failed)
D: T. Johnson 5 run (Golackson kick)
D: FG Golackson 21
P: Luke Fugate 40 run (White kick)
First downs — D 14, P 9. Rushing — D 45-303, P 31-148. Passing Yards — D 178, P 119. Passing — D 7-9-1, P 10-17-2. Fumbles–lost — D 3-1, P 3-1. Penalties-yards — D 7-45, P 1-10.
Rushing — D: Hunter Johnson 18-161; P: Jason Withrow 16-73, Luke Fugate 5-59. Passing — D: Jared Meister 7-9-1, 178; P: Cody Schambow 9-16-2, 89. Receiving — D: H. Johnson 2-97; P: Donovan Blevins 4-38, Cameron Brant 3-58.