WILMINGTON – The Wilmington football program has gotten through several games in recent years, including a few this year, where they didn’t need to pass at all.
But when they needed a spark in Saturday night’s Class 3A second-round playoff game against visiting Eureka, they dusted off the old passing playbook and pulled out some real gems to help them to a 28-7 win over the Hornets.
“If people see it on film, maybe they have to honor that a little bit more and it gets our running game going,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said. “[Keaton] Hopwood’s got a lot of confidence back there, he’s been a three-year starter, you would hope that he would do that.”
The win lifts Wilmington (10-1) into next weekend’s quarterfinal round, where they will travel to play Byron at an as-yet-to-be-determined date and time. Byron beat Durand-Pecatonica, 42-14, on Saturday. Wilmington will be playing Byron in the postseason for the fifth time in the last nine years.
The two teams fought to an absolute stalemate early in the contest with neither team giving much. But Eureka’s talented dual threat quarterback Matthew Martin figured out a way to inch his team down the field and capped the Hornets drive with a 2-yard keeper.
Wilmington isn’t exactly known for being a quick-strike offense, but they responded rather quickly, thanks in large part to the rarely used Wilmington passing attack. Hopwood completed a 41-yard pass to Jake Rodawold, who made a tremendous adjustment on the ball in the air and came down with the ball at the 5-yard line.
Trey Shaw punched it in from there to allow the Wildcats to knot the score at seven.
Things continued to go south for the Hornets, who finished 8-3, on their next possession, as Hopwood came up with an interception to get the ball back; and after three effective running plays Hopwood dropped back and hit Shaw, who then made a few moves and finished with a 31-yard touchdown reception for his efforts with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
With a lead in hand, the Wildcats went back to their strength after the break, bullying around a larger Eureka defensive line to gain control of the line of scrimmage.
That dominance led to a third quarter touchdown drive capped by an 11-yard run by Shaw that basically put the game out of reach for Eureka. But for good measure, they finished the effort with a long drive in the fourth quarter that drained the clock and ended with a TD run for Jake Rodawald.
“We ran the ball when we needed to,” Reents said. “We were getting four to five yards, I know we weren’t getting the big yards. And we were keeping the ball possession on our side.”
The Wildcats finished with 251 rushing yards as they didn’t truly deviate from their roots. Although Wilmington attempted only those two passes that paid dividends, Reents recognized their impact.
“Our kids have confidence in it,” Reents said. “We just try to do what we do, the way we do it, the best that we can.”