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To the next level
Darlington's Jason Singer finds room to run in the second quarter of a second round playoff game against Mineral Point at home Saturday. The Redbirds, the state runner-up last year, like the Warriors are two wins away from returning to the state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
SOUTH WAYNE - The last time Black Hawk played at Potosi earlier this year, disaster struck when junior Chase Stietz was injured on the opening kickoff.

Potosi knocked off Black Hawk 29-22 en route to winning the Six Rivers Conference championship. Fast forward six weeks and Black Hawk (8-3) gets a rematch with Potosi (10-1) in the WIAA Division 7 state quarterfinals at Potosi Friday. Without Stietz in the September game, Potosi's Kyle Kaiser tossed three touchdowns.

"We are not quite as dynamic and as fast as last year, but our kids are slowly gaining confidence," Black Hawk coach Cory Milz said. "We got out of position a little bit and had some different kids in there. We were not as prepared that first time. I think the kids will be much better prepared this time."

The Warriors, the defending Division 7 state champions, built some confidence by knocking off No. 1 ranked Ithaca 16-0 in the Level 2 playoffs last week. Stietz is still dealing with a nagging strained tendon injury. He returned to practice on a limited basis and tried to play against Ithaca.

"He struggled pushing off his ankle," Milz said. "It's still pretty sore. We are not planning to count on him. He's really not in our rotation."

The Chieftains have a lot of weapons led by Kaiser, who has passed for 1,666 yards with 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Potosi running back Teagan Friederick has rushed for 1,307 yards with 13 TDs and fullback Brent Curtis has rushed for 843 yards and 14 TDs. Wide receiver Riley Hawes has 50 receptions for 835 yards and 11 TDs.

"They are very similar to our team last year," Milz said. "They are very balanced. Their quarterback (Kaiser) is very accurate and puts the ball where it needs to be. They have two good wide receivers and a quality tight end. They are loaded in the skill positions."

It all starts with shutting down the Chieftains running game.

"You can't just stack the box to stop them," Milz said. "They will throw the ball or run it at any down or distance. We want to eliminate the big plays, but more importantly we have to stop their run and make them go to the air. From what I have seen in the playoffs, teams have not been able to stop their fullback on runs inside. It will be a test and a challenge for us."

On offense, the Warriors are averaging 32 points per game. Black Hawk senior Shawn Woodruff has rushed for 1,809 yards and 19 TDs. He averages 164 rushing yards per game and is just 270 yards away from breaking Tanner Sweeney's single season rushing record. Senior quarterback Heath Butler has passed for 799 yards with 11 TDs and six interceptions and rushed for 553 yards and eight touchdowns.

When teams load up to stop Woodruff, running back Jacob Quinn, and wing back Brody Milz have delivered big plays in the postseason.

"Jacob Quinn ran the ball well inside last week against Ithaca," Milz said. "Brody Milz is starting to believe he belongs. That is pretty powerful. They are growing in confidence and they are playing faster. They are going in not hoping to do well, but expecting to do well."

Division 6

Darlington (10-1) will host Lake Country Lutheran (11-0) in a Division 6 state quarterfinal game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Martens Field.

The Redbirds, the state runner-up last year, like the Warriors are two wins away from returning to the state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Lake Country Lutheran quarterback Ben Wilkins has passed for 1,714 yards with 30 TDs and three interceptions. The Lightning, which average 49.5 points per game, run a spread based offense, but also use a strong running game to attack opponents. Lake Country Lutheran running back Adam Tovar has rushed for 1,213 yards and 18 TDs this season. The top target in the passing game for the Lightning is Grant Johnson, who has 39 receptions for 854 yards and 15 TDs.

When asked about Wilkins and the Lightning's explosive passing game, Darlington senior linebacker Myles Leahy wanted to let his play do the talking.

"I stay out of stats," Leahy said. "I just worry about the game. There is no reason to get all worked up about it."

Darlington has won 10 straight games since a season-opening 35-19 loss to Platteville. The Redbirds' defense has limited five teams to seven points or less this year. The Redbirds have forced 10 turnovers in two playoff games.

"Every day in practice coach Zywicki stresses turnovers," Darlington senior Cole McDonald said. "One person holds up the ball carrier, the other one goes and tries to rip it out."

The turnovers have helped fuel a Redbird offense averaging 52 ppg. The Redbirds have three running backs knocking on the door to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards. Senior Jason Singer has already rushed for 1,021 yards and scored 16 TDs. Leahy has rushed for 941 yards and scored 20 TDs in just seven games, while sophomore Hunter Johnson has 760 rushing yards and 10 TDs. Leahy is averaging 134 yards and Singer is averaging 102 rushing yards per game.

In Black Hawk's 66-33 win over Lake Country Lutheran in the Division 7 state semifinals last year, the Warriors rushed for 521 total yards. Will Darlington use the same blueprint to hammer at the Lightning defense?

"Obviously, if you are undefeated they are a quality team," Darlington coach Scott Zywicki said. "There is no need to get too fancy. We will run our plays. We will do what got us here."

McDonald has been efficient at quarterback completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards and 15 TDs with just three interceptions. He's averaging 22 yards per completion in an explosive offense.

Zywicki said the Redbirds have seen just about every offense this year from two running backs, to a Wing-T and the spread.

"I think we have seen it all," Zywicki said. "The key will be to make them one-dimensional."