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BELLEVUE, Iowa — Bend, but don’t break.

That’s often been the way of the Wilton defense throughout the season. Friday night was no different, as Wilton defense stopped Bellevue on fourth down eight times, including twice inside the Wilton 5-yard line, and forced five turnovers.

“I’m just going to say that’s heart, pure heart,” Wilton junior Jerome Mays said. “We want to take the program to places it’s never been before.”

The Beavers did just that in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs on a frigid Friday night by beating the Comets 28-14 on their home field to clinch a quarterfinal appearance for the Wilton football team for the first time in school history.

Mays is known for his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback, but his defensive prowess turned the tide early. The junior jumped a slant route and intercepted Bellevue senior quarterback Cade Daugherty and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter.

Two plays after Mays’ interception, junior Chantz Stevens intercepted Daugherty and returned it for a 31-yard touchdown to give Wilton a 16-0 lead in the first quarter.

Wilton (9-1) didn’t find much success on offense, especially in the first half as it only gained 78 yards. But 54 of those came on a screen pass from Mays to junior Brock Hartley, which set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown by senior Trey Brisker to give the Beavers a 22-0 lead.

But the Comets (8-2) managed to get on the board with a 1-yard rushing touchdown by junior Hunter Clasen to pull within 22-7.

“I thought we had them right where we wanted them,” Bellevue coach Chet Knake said. “We couldn’t have played any worse, and we had all the momentum and the defense was playing great.”

The Comets (8-2) opened the second half exactly how Knake hoped by forcing a three-and-out and putting together a touchdown drive that ended with a 13-yard pass from Daugherty to Clasen with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter.

However, the Beavers stopped the Comets on fourth down on five of their next six possessions, and two of those were inside the Wilton 5-yard line. After denying Clasen, who rushed for 134 yards, on a fourth-and-2, Mays broke a 43-yard run before putting the finishing touches on his 88-yard day with a 16-yard touchdown run to seal the game.

“If our offense would have finished some drives, this game could have turned out completely different,” Knake said. “They stepped up and stopped us. Our bread and butter was being able to run the ball inside (near) the goal line. We couldn’t do that tonight.”