Zach Thornton stole the show but the Richland Center Hornets notched the homecoming win here at Avitus Ripp Field Friday night.
Thornton, a 200-pound senior running back, ran for 331 yards and four touchdowns but literally came up inches shy of delivering a victory to Prairie du Chien.
As the seconds ticked off, Thornton was stopped inches shy of the goal line as the final seconds ticked off to preserve the first SWC win for coach Greg Schoepp and the Hornets in 2011.
“What a game!” Schoepp said. “It was probably only fitting that our defense preserved the win that way with a dramatic stop at the goal line. All season we’ve hung our hat on our defense, and it has kept us in virtually every game.”
Although Prairie du Chien piled up the statistics, the Hornets’ final stop, which ironically came after Prairie du Chien was inadvertently given five downs to make its last first down, stopped the Blackhawks on two other occasions in Hornet territory.
And it wasn’t a total defensive show. The Hornets scored four touchdowns and converted on two of three 2-point conversion attempts. Kory Stevens scored twice, and Jacob Killoy and Todd Wienkes each once. Wienkes scrambled for a conversion and flipped a pass to Alex Mortimer for another.
The Hornets started quickly. Divontae Casto’s concentration on the ball led to a long pass reception which was tipped by two defenders. On the sixth play of the 67-yard drive Wienkes flipped an 11-yard scoring pass to Killoy. Wienkes’ conversion attempt was wide with 8:59 left in the first quarter.
Killoy also showed he could intercept as well. His pick of a Jaalen Riebe pass and return set up another Hornet score. Although the pick proved costly because Casto suffered a knee injury on the play and did not see any more action, Wienkes threw to Killoy to the five, and Stevens bolted over with 4:17 left. Wienkes scrambled for the conversion and a 14-0 lead.
Prairie du Chien, needing a win for a chance at a playoff berth, struck back quickly.
Thornton rambled 44 yards on the final play of the first quarter, and Dillon Mezera booted the conversion.
Thornton”s second touchdown came on a one-yard blast in the second quarter, but Mezera’s kick failed.
The Hornets held a 14-13 halftime lead, but Prairie du Chien scored first in the second half. Thornton raced 24 yards to give the Blackhawks a 19-14 edge, but a pass for a two-point conversion failed.
Schoepp said he was apprehensive about his team’s response after falling behind. “I thought we got a big lift from Anthony Rider,” he said. “His long run which set up a touchdown was a huge play for us. Overall, I thought he had his best game.”
Rider led the Hornets in rushing with 81 yards in five carries. Stevens scored on a three-yard run with 6:11 left in the third quarter, but the conversion failed.
The Hornets took a 20-19 lead into the fourth quarter and extended it to 28-19 with 7:32 left. Wienkes scored on a one-yard keeper and then threw to Mortimer for the two-point conversion.
Prairie wasn’t done yet. The Blackhawks drew within 28-25 with 4:09 remaining as Thornton scored from the two, but the conversion failed.
Trying to run out the clock, the Hornets had a first down nullified by penalty, so they had to punt. Prairie needed to go 80 yards but managed only 79 yards and two feet.
Prairie had a 21-13 advantage in first downs. The Hawks outrushed the Hornets, 331-189, and outpassed them, 131-95. Riebe was eight of 15 with one interception, and Wienkes hit five of eight.
In other SWC action, Lancaster routed Dodgeville, 51-0, as Trae Mezera scored four TDs and ran for 232 yards. Platteville dominated River Valley, 23-7, as Logan Emendorfer passed for a touchdown and ran for another.
The Hornets go to Dodgeville for their final game Friday night. They will be seeking to win a second SWC game in one season for the first time in four years.
River Valley will travel to Prairie du Chien needing a win to get into the playoffs.
Most eyes will be fixed on the title tilt between Platteville and Lancaster at Platteville. Both teams are highly regarded statewide. Each is 4-0 in the SWC and 8-0 overall. The contest will pit Lancaster’s speed and Platteville’s size and strength.