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WILMINGTON — The Wilmington football team made its much ballyhooed entrance on Saturday evening at Becker Field.
Led by a cavalcade of six motorcycles and young fans forming a line from the end zone to the 50-yard line, the Wilmington players sprinted out of the woods and down the chute while ambulance and police sirens wailed in the background.
Waiting to greet the Wildcats and bursting with their own pregame emotion was the St. Joseph-Ogden football team. The Spartans stopped the Wildcats from sprinting the length of the field, nearly prompting a pregame skirmish neither SJO veteran head coach Dick Duval nor veteran Wilmington head coach Jeff Reents probably wanted.
But that was about the only time the Spartans stopped the Wildcats in the Class 3A second-round playoff game. Wilmington ran rampant against the Spartans and rolled to a 48-8 victory that ended SJO’s season.
“We got beat by a much better team,” Duval said. “They were better in all phases, and they beat us in all phases. We turned the ball over early and just gave them more chances.”
Wilmington’s wing-T offense hummed along at an efficient tune. The Wildcats outgained SJO 471-96 in terms of total offense for the game, with Wilmington having a huge advantage in the first half. Leading 41-0 at halftime, Wilmington (9-2) had outgained SJO 422-4.
“I was very surprised at the outcome, to be honest,” Reents said. “That was as good as we’ve played all year. It really is. We’re peaking at the right time. We were fortunate to get some turnovers early.”
Wilmington forced three SJO turnovers (two fumbles and a first-quarter interception thrown by SJO junior quarterback Dalton Walsh), and SJO’s defense could not stop the Wildcats’ offense. Wilmington senior running back Tom Wolfe consistently gashed the Spartans’ defense with counters over the left side of Wilmington’s line. He finished with a game-high 167 yards on 14 carries, including touchdown runs of 12, 49, 15 and 5. His 5-yard plunge, the final touchdown of the night for Wolfe, came with five seconds left in the first half to give Wilmington a 41-0 lead and prompt a running clock for the entire second half. Wolfe and the rest of the Wilmington starters did not play in the second half.
Wilmington senior running back Chris Tworek added 81 rushing yards on 11 carries, including touchdown runs of 2 and 33 yards to help break the game open in the second quarter after the Spartans (9-2) trailed 20-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“I told our kids we just did not start the game very well,” Duval said. “In an emotional game like this, you’ve got to get off to a good start, and we obviously didn’t. We’ve had horrible first halves all year. This is probably the worst.”
When Wilmington didn’t present problems for SJO with its run game, it did so with its passing game. Sophomore quarterback Joe Mann completed 4-of-5 passes for 99 yards, with the left-handed throwing Mann hitting senior wide receiver Nick Anderson twice for 67 yards and finding Tworek twice for 32 yards.
“You pick your poison with them,” Duval said. “You bring people up in the box and put as many people in the box as you can, and then their quarterback does a great job throwing the ball. We never saw that on film.”
Walsh struggled against an aggressive Wilmington defense that sacked him three times. Walsh finished 1-of-8 for 11 yards, with his 11-yard completion to senior wide receiver Louis Acklin accounting for SJO’s longest play of the first half.
The third and final sack Wilmington registered on Walsh knocked him out of the game with less than four minutes left in the second quarter. Duval said Walsh had no feeling in his left elbow, and sophomore backup Cole Berry played the rest of the game. He did not complete a pass in any of his three attempts.
Senior running back Chase Patton was bottled up to only 23 yards on 10 carries while junior running back Austin Hedrick was limited to 15 rushing yards on five carries. Sophomore Orion Ciota led SJO’s ground game with 38 yards on six carries, including a 28-yard touchdown run with 37.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Ciota’s touchdown ensured SJO would not suffer its first shutout loss since a 21-0 loss to Clifton Central in Week 4 of the 2011 regular season.
“This is obviously not the way we wanted to end our season,” Duval said. “I told (the seniors) this is never the way you want to ... end your career. Unless you’re going to win a state championship, your last game is never going to be much fun.”