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Erickson keys big first half, Redbirds move on to Level 2
Darlingtons Tucker Wiegel (21) follows a block from Wade Black (52) and looks to break free on a run in the first half Tuesday.
LANCASTER - Darlington senior quarterback Alex Erickson makes a living on the football field eluding defenders.

Erickson rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns to propel the Redbirds to a 30-19 win over Lancaster in the first-round of the WIAA Division 5 playoffs Tuesday night.

There's no sidestepping the significance of the win for the Redbirds after they were knocked out of the playoffs the last two years by Lancaster. Lancaster has qualified for the playoffs 18 straight years and beat the Redbirds 35-19 in the Level 3 game last year. Erickson isn't a high school football historian, but he was excited with the win.

"They have a great tradition here," Erickson said. "It feels good. It's the playoffs. You want to keep moving on. You want to keep fighting and winning."

It was the tale of two halves for the Redbirds. Darlington (10-0) scored four touchdowns in the first half and rolled to a 30-6 halftime lead. The Flying Arrows (5-5) shut down the Redbirds' offense in the second half and limited them to just two first downs.

The Redbirds' defense stepped up and made some critical plays at the most opportune times. There were no defensive plays bigger than the fumble the Redbirds recovered late in the fourth quarter and the interception Brandon Hardyman had with about a minute left that sealed the victory.

"It's more of a relief than anything with the way we played," Darlington coach Scott Zywicki said. "In the second half, they took it to us. Hopefully, it's a learning tool for our kids to play a full 48 minutes. Any time you beat Lancaster, you beat a heck of a team."

The Redbirds' offense rolled from their first drive. On the third play of the game Erickson bolted 80-yards for a touchdown. He scored the two-point conversion on a draw to give the Redbirds an 8-0 lead with 11 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Redbirds followed that up with an 11-play, 80-yard drive culminating in Erickson's 2-yard TD run. He again scored a two-point conversion on a draw running through a couple of tackles to give the Redbirds a 16-0 lead with 3:14 left in the first quarter.

Lancaster sophomore Troy Baker then gave the Flying Arrows a spark with a 75-yard kickoff return to the Redbirds' 7-yard line. Four plays later on fourth-and-goal, Lancaster senior Trevor Landon hammered his way in for a 2-yard TD run to cut the Redbirds' lead to 16-6.

Darlington started the second quarter just as dominant as the first. Erickson capped an eight-play, 67-yard drive with a 37-yard TD run to give the Redbirds a 23-6 lead with 9:49 left in the second quarter.

Darlington came in looking to limit the big plays from the Flying Arrows' option based attack. The Redbirds' defense came up with a big play at the end of the first quarter. Darlington senior Tucker Wiegel stuffed Baker on the option, forced a fumble, recovered it and raced 32-yards for a touchdown to give the Redbirds a 30-6 lead with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter.

In the second half, the Flying Arrows hit on some big plays running the option. Lancaster junior Matt Ihm had a 32-yard run that put the Flying Arrows deep in Redbirds territory. Ihm scored on a 30-yard run on the option three plays later to cut the Redbirds' lead to 30-12 with 5:36 left in the third quarter.

"They were getting to our linebackers and secondary," Erickson said. "They were getting to the edge and we had no answer for it."

Zywicki said several players took poor angles looking to make a tackle.

Lancaster senior quarterback Brian Day connected with Aaron Williams on a 39-yard pass on third-and-16 from the 41-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. After a false start penalty on the Flying Arrows, Baker broke a couple tackles and fought his way in for a 14-yard TD run to slice the Redbirds' lead to 30-19 with 11:05 to go in the fourth quarter. That set the stages for the Redbirds' defense to make some big plays.

Darlington moves on to play Stratford in the Level 2 playoffs Saturday. Zywicki said Stratford, which had its run of six straight Division 6 state championships snapped last year, may want the game played at a neutral site.

Zywicki was hoping to get a home game Saturday, but the site and time of the game was not announced by press time. It is expected to be announced today.

"We knew the road to state would not be a smooth one," Zywicki said. "We will have to take them one game at a time."