IOWA CITY − Wilton head coach Ryan Hetzler will be the first to admit his six seniors are far from the most talented high school football players in the state of Iowa. But he insists they will give everything they have each week on the football field.
And that’s what made it so difficult to say goodbye in the aftermath of a 35-0 loss to Iowa City Regina in the Class 1A quarterfinals that ended Wilton’s season. The seniors lined up on the Regina field, and every player and coach said their goodbyes.
Certainly, emotions were running high, but Hetzler was quickly able to put things in perspective. He knew few expected this group of seniors to get to this point.
“When they were freshmen, I was told I would take my lumps,” Hetzler said. “If 9-2 is a lump year, then I think we’re OK. It’s a group that didn’t win a single junior high game, didn’t win more than two junior varsity games in a season, and here they are 9-2 in the quarterfinals.
“They’ve given me everything I could have asked for.”
Although the journey stopped in the quarterfinals against Regina, the only team to beat Wilton this season, the Beavers had chances to snatch momentum early on.
Jacob Phillips fumbled on the Regals’ first play from scrimmage, and the Beavers recovered on the 39 and picked up two quick first downs to get in the redzone.
Facing a fourth down and five on the Regina 14-yard line, Jerome Mays was sacked, and Wilton came away empty handed. But the Beavers’ defense held strong once again and forced the Regals to punt. The Beavers quickly found themselves in plus territory once more after Mays tossed a 26-yard completion to junior Cory Anderson and a 12-yard completion to junior Brock Hartley on the following play.
But Wilton once again stalled in the red zone, and a high snap caused junior Jared Townsend to miss wide right on a 35-yard field goal attempt.
“Inside the 20 in playoff games you have to score,” Hetzler said. “But all the momentum was on our side, our offense was moving and our defense was playing well.”
However, the momentum quickly shifted in the second quarter. Regina senior Isaac Vollstedt rattled off three big runs for 39 of his game-high 140 rushing yards to set up a six-yard touchdown by Michael Conlon, Regina’s senior quarterback.
The team’s exchanged a pair of interceptions after that, but with the ball back in Wilton’s possession, Mays, a junior, telegraphed an out route that was intercepted by Vollstedt. Regina eventually capitalized as Phillips scored a three-yard rushing touchdown for a 15-0 lead that would remain going into halftime, and things spiraled out of control in the third quarter for the Beavers.
They opened the half with a three-and-out, and the Regals marched down the field and Conlon got his second rushing touchdown of the night to give them a 21-0 lead.
“We had to put points on the board but just never responded,” Hetzler said. “Coming out of halftime I thought the boys were in high spirits, but a three-and-out is not exactly the way you want to start the half.
“We just could never get in a rhythm and get momentum back on our side.”
Although the offensive numbers didn’t look too bad for the Beavers, as Mays totaled 207 yards (93 passing, 114 rushing) and Anderson had four receptions for 59 yards, they only got past the 50-yard line once in the second half.
The final straw came with under four minutes to go in the third quarter when Anderson muffed a punt on Wilton’s six-yard line and Vollstedt scored a six-yard rushing touchdown to give Regina a 28-0 lead.
“I think when we lost that punt it really kind of shut us down,” Hetzler said. “You could see it on our sidelines, our shoulders kind of dropped.”
Although a 35-0 loss to end the most successful season in program history isn’t what Hetzler or anybody on the team expected, he hopes his group of talented underclassmen can build on the historic season.
“It’s a good step for this program,” Hetzler said. “We were one game away from the dome, and we’d never played in this kind of game. Moving forward it’s a really good experience for the guys who will be back to see what it takes to get over the hump.”
Midland 52, Tripoli 50: Midland rallied from a two touchdown deficit in the second half Friday and upset No. 9 Tripoli, 52-50, to earn its second straight trip to the 8-player semifinals in the UNI-Dome.
The bad news is, their opponent is the same as a year ago.
No. 1 Don Bosco (11-0) awaits Midland (9-2) for a breakfast kickoff of 9 a.m. Thursday. Last year the Dons won, 72-0.
Austin Smith rushed 47 times for 293 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also had 82 yards passing. Carter Mohr had 4 catches for 65 yards and 2 touchdowns.