DURANT, Iowa — For much of the night, Durant’s biggest opponent was itself.
But as the game went on, the Wildcats conquered their own demons and finished with a resounding 28-7 win over BGM, clinching its first playoff spot since 2010 and at least a share of the Class A District 6 title.
"It's really been an accomplishment for us," senior quarterback Bryce Lafrenz said. "We've worked hard and this is just one of our steps. We've got to keep going from here."
Prior to this year, Durant (6-2, 4-0) had endured seven straight losing seasons, its best coming last year with a 4-5 finish.
It's been an emotional turnaround.
"I don't know if words can describe it," said second-year Durant head coach Joel Diederichs. "It's been great, it's been a ride-and-a-half."
Perhaps because of the magnitude of the game, the possibility that lay ahead of them, Durant struggled with mistakes in the first half.
The Wildcats took the opening drive of the game right down the field, only to fumble on the BGM 7-yard line. On its second drive, Durant got to the BGM 35 before a pair of offensive penalties forced the Wildcats to punt.
However, Durant got the ball right back when Lafrenz intercepted a pass from Noah Beck on the first play of the Bears’ drive to give the Wildcats the ball at the BGM 14.
Still, the Wildcats went backwards when Lafrenz was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
"We were beating ourselves," Lafrenz said. "If we clean up our mistakes and do our jobs as players, we're set."
Lafrenz made sure the Wildcats didn’t come away empty-handed, hitting Jake Willkomm for a 22-yard touchdown on 3rd and 18 to put Durant on the board.
Willkomm was huge on the night, catching three passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns. He entered the game with just four catches all year.
"He did an excellent job for us last year in the JV program, and I know he has it in him," Diederichs said. "Early, I thought he was trying to do too much. Tonight was a special night for him. ... He did a heckuva job out there."
BGM struggled in the first half to move the ball but took advantage of another Durant miscue to get on the board.
After going three and out for the third straight possession, BGM’s punt back to Durant was mishandled by Mason Compton and the Bears recovered on the Wildcats’ 21-yard line.
Three plays later, Noah Bell ran in for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the game.
"We had some seniors that were trying to make plays that they've made in the past, but they were pressing the issue," Diederichs said. "They knew coming in and it was a stage they hadn't faced before. A couple years ago we were 1-8, and it's a process ... to learn how to win."
The Wildcats took a big step with their response on the following next drive, going 85 yards in seven plays, with Lafrenz hitting Willkomm for a 15-yard touchdown to put Durant up 14-7 with 1:09 left in the half.
Durant's defense stepped up the rest of the way. Marcus Engstler had interceptions on two straight BGM plays to set up a 66-yard pass from Lafrenz to Willkomm to put the Wildcats up 21-7 after three quarters.
"I just saw an opportunity to go make a play, and I made it," Engstler said. "To go from a losing record to a winning record and district champions, it means the world."
The Wildcats held the Bears (7-1, 3-1) to 147 total yards and forced three turnovers.
Lafrenz found Compton with a 10-yard strike while avoiding a sack to cap the scoring early in the fourth quarter. Lafrenz finished with 235 yards and four touchdown passes and evaded the BGM pressure all night.
Now the Wildcats have a chance to go unbeaten and clinch a sole district title with a win next week over Pekin.
They're ready for the opportunity.
"It's really just capping off our goals," Lafrenz said. "We're taking it one step at a time, and that's just another step in the road."