HERSCHER – Three numbers describe Wilmington’s heart-stopping, 31-28 Interstate Eight Small showdown victory over Herscher on Friday night.
20 – The defending Class 3A state champions (6-0, 4-0) won their 20th consecutive game.
41 – The Wildcats won their 41st consecutive conference game going back to Week 6 of the 2007 season.
8 – With the win over Herscher (4-2, 3-1), the Wildcats clinched a tie for their eighth consecutive conference title. A win over Seneca Friday will mean No. 8 outright.
With Wilmington leading, 31-13, with four minutes left, Herscher rallied behind quarterback Tyler Jones (15 of 28 for 285 yards and three TDs). Jones hit Tyler Stewart (six catches, 166 yards, two touchdowns) for TD strikes of 86 and 26 yards to bring the Tigers within 31-28 with 1:58 to go.
The Wildcats weren’t able to breathe until Herscher’s onside kick failed to go 10 yards.
“I told the kids that I am so proud of them for this huge win,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said. “It not only was our 20th consecutive win and our 41st consecutive I-8 win, but also clinched our 20th consecutive playoff spot.”
Wilmington’s Owen Weaver opened the Wildcats scoring with a 77-yard run a minute and a half into the game for a 7-0 lead. Jones hit running back Matt Alsip for a 35-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7, after one quarter.
With 10:50 left in the half, Hawkins capped a nine-play, 87-yard drive with a 41-yard run to give Wilmington a lead it would not relinquish, 14-7.
Defensive back Dylan Wallace picked off Jones at the 10:06 mark of the half and linebacker Brett McWilliams’ fumble recovery led to a 10-play, 42-yard drive, capped by Weaver’s second touchdown from 4 yards out. Alex Hatten’s 29-yard field goal made it 24-7 at halftime.
Alsip scored on a 5-yard run to pull Herscher within 24-13 with 9:16 left in the third quarter. Keaton Hansen fell on a bad snap over the Herscher punter’s head in the end zone for a 31-13 lead with 11:05 left.
The Wildcats amassed 406 yards on the ground, led by Weaver’s 208 on 22 carries and Hawkins’ 134 on 22 tries. Nick Pretto added 38 yards on seven carries before exiting with an ankle injury.
“Our offensive line is amazing and did a great job for us,” Weaver said. “This was a great team victory.”
Wildcat quarterback Jeff Treadman, who is 5 for 8 for 58 yards on the season, was 1 for 2, including an 18-yard strike to Weaver.
“Another team effort here at Wilmington,” Hawkins said. “I owe it all to our outstanding offensive line.”
The offensive line of center Ben Studer, guards Robert Van Duyne and Blake Guise and tackle Baily Boswell paved the road for Weaver and Hawkins all night.
“Our ‘O’ line really blocked well tonight. This was a total team victory,” Studer said. “We blocked well, but Nick and Owen ran so hard for us. They are both great backs.”
The Wildcats’ defense, led by McWilliams, held Herscher to minus-18 yards rushing. Alsip who had rushed for 523 yards in his first five games, was held to 16 yards on seven carries and a rushing touchdown. Defensive end Sam Jones had a sack for Wilmington.
“We played great team defense,” McWilliams said. “We really shut their ground game down and got out of here with a big win.”
“Our line really blocked well and Owen [Weaver] had a great game,” Reents added. “Nick [Hawkins] is an All-Stater and had another good game. With Owen’s emergence in our backfield, he really creates problems for opposing defenses. I was very happy with our holding Herscher to minus yards rushing, too.”