By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Comeback keeps 'Birds alive
Darlington junior Mitchell Langkamp breaks a tackle on a run in the first quarter of the Redbirds' comeback 29-26 win over Arcadia Saturday in the WIAA Division 5 Level 3 playoffs.
DARLINGTON - Darlington senior Alex Erickson celebrated his 18th birthday in style Saturday.

Erickson had 221 total yards of offense and scored three touchdowns to rally the Redbirds to a 29-26 WIAA Division 5 Level 3 playoff win over Arcadia at Martens Field. With the win, Darlington (12-0) moves on to the state semifinals to play Brillion (12-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Watertown.

"It's the best present I have ever had," Erickson said after spearheading a comeback to beat last year's Division 5 state runner-up.

Erickson said making a run to state at Camp Randall Stadium Nov. 18 was the team's goal all season.

"It's been our goal from the get-go," Erickson said. "Now we just have one more game to go."

The Redbirds trailed 19-7 at halftime and were plagued by a crucial running-into-the-kicker penalty. It's the first time the Redbirds had trailed in a game since the third week of the season against Fennimore. Darlington coach Scott Zywicki didn't have to diagram any offensive or defensive plays to drive home his point at halftime.

"There was nothing we could do scheme-wise to win or lose the game," Zywicki said. "We were just letting them take it to us. It was basically a gut-check. We had to do a better job on defense of fighting off blocks and maintaining blocks on offense."

The Redbirds' defense rose to the occasion in the second half recording three sacks, getting two interceptions from Cody Erickson and another interception by Alex Erickson with 1 minute, 57 seconds left to seal the victory.

"Coach Zywicki chewed us a new one at halftime," said Darlington senior Zach Brown who had two of the Redbirds' three sacks. "We just wanted to win for him."

The Redbirds started the Level 3 playoff game much like they have the postseason and every game this year. The Redbirds marched 67-yards in 12-plays capped off by junior Mitchell Langkamp's 5-yard TD run. Darlington converted two third-down plays and a key fourth down on the drive. On third-and-8 from the 46-yard line of the Raiders, Erickson connected with Tucker Wiegel on a 15-yard pass to keep the drive alive. Wiegel had a critical 18-yard run on fourth-and-4 from the 23-yard line.

Erickson rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns. He was 6-of-13 passing for 98 yards and one touchdown. Langkamp was back in the starting lineup after recovering from a broken collarbone.

"(State) has been our goal since the beginning of the year," Langkamp said. "I didn't think I would make it back. We have to take it one step at a time. Playing all 48 minutes is what we have to do."

Arcadia answered with a quick strike five-play, 69-yard drive that was led by senior running back Reid Christ. Christ had a 20-yard run and finished off the drive with a 25-yard TD run at 2:52 in the first quarter. The Redbirds blocked the extra point to maintain a 7-6 lead. Christ later bolted 59-yards for a score and finished with a total of 190 yards rushing on 20 carries. However, he missed some key stretches in the second half with a knee contusion and an injured ankle.

When it appeared like the Redbirds would get the ball back with the Raiders facing fourth-and-4 from their own 48-yard line in the second quarter, disaster struck. Darlington was called for a back-breaking running into the kicker penalty that gave the Raiders an automatic first down. The Raiders cashed in on the eight-play, 79-yard drive when Alonzo Genelin tossed a 5-yard TD pass to Andrew Robinson with seven seconds left in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 19-7 lead.

After fumbling on its first possession of the second half, the Redbirds' defense stepped up and forced a turnover on downs. Darlington then went on an 11-play, 68-yard drive culminating in Erickson's 4-yard TD run with 2:21 left in the third quarter to cut the Raiders' lead to 19-14. Erickson kept the drive alive with a 13-yard run on fourth-and-11 from the Raiders' 17-yard line.

One adjustment Zywicki did make was moving the 6-foot, 6-inch Brown to wide receiver in the second half.

"Zach at 6-5 or 6-6 is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs," Zywicki said. "He came in and gave us a spark."

Darlington's defense shut down the Raiders and had golden field position after a short punt in the fourth quarter. Erickson cashed in on the field position scoring on a 13-yard run and he ran in the two-point conversion to give the Redbirds a 22-19 lead. Moments later, Erickson hooked up with Brandon Hardyman on a 21-yard TD pass on fourth down to give Darlington a 29-19 lead with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders didn't go quietly as Genelin tossed a 25-yard TD pass to Matt Forsythe with 5:16 to go to cut the deficit to 29-26. Arcadia recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Alex Erickson's interception sealed it.

Now the Redbirds will prepare for a state semifinal game against unbeaten Brillion, which defeated Waterloo.

"Hopefully, we have another great game in us," Zywicki said.