MADISON – Back in September, there were doubts surrounding the St. Mary’s Springs football team.
The Ledgers had just lost to Omro, their second defeat of the season, and gave up over 500 yards in the process. With all of the talent St. Mary’s Springs had lost from its 2014 team, the question of whether this season’s squad was capable of defending its state title was a legitimate one.
On a cold, blustery day at Camp Randall Stadium, the Ledgers proved the doubters wrong in resounding fashion.
Clay Schueffner ran for 233 yards and two touchdowns, and St. Mary’s Springs held Darlington to only 169 total yards as the Ledgers blew past the Redbirds 39-20 Thursday afternoon in the WIAA Division 6 state championship game, winning their second straight title and sixth overall in WIAA play.
“We lost a couple games (earlier in the year), which was uncharacteristic, and we weren’t playing good defense,” St. Mary’s Springs coach Bob Hyland said. “But we sure did today, didn’t we? They really turned it around since that fifth or sixth game of the season.”
St. Mary’s Springs’ sixth state championship moves the program into a tie with Hartland Arrowhead and Edgar for the second-most in WIAA history.
Tied at 20 apiece late in the third quarter, St. Mary’s Springs (12-2) put its foot on the gas and never let up.
Following a Hunter Johnson touchdown run for Darlington (13-1) that evened the game, Schueffner rumbled 56 yards down the sideline, breaking a a couple tackles along the way, to give Springs a 26-20 lead with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Ledgers defense then stopped the Redbirds on their next drive, took the ball on offense and pounded it down Darlington’s throat. Fintan Floyd capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run and just like that, Springs was up 32-20.
After another defensive stop by the Ledgers, Schueffner ran 56 yards untouched for his second touchdown, essentially wrapping up the gold ball midway through the fourth quarter.
“I was just following Michael Buetow, seeing where Fintan was blocking those guys,” Schueffner said. “Our power (runs) try to go off tackle, but the guy came too shallow. Fintan caved him in, and Michael followed up. All I had to do was follow Michael, and that’s not too hard to do.”
Along with Schueffner, who averaged an astonishing 15.5 yards per carry, Floyd added 184 yards rushing and three scores for the Ledgers, who ran for 430 yards as a team. With a gusting wind affecting play for much of the game, St. Mary’s Springs stuck to the ground game — attempting only three passes.
“We were able to come out after that first drive, and we were able to see what they were doing, make our adjustments,” Springs offensive lineman Kurt Mueller said. “We went with it. In the second half, they came out in a little different look, and we adjusted again and took advantage of it. We were able to put a lot of points up on the board.”
A crucial moment in the game came on the very play that tied the game at 20 each, as Darlington’s Hunter Johnson appeared to injure himself when leaping into the end zone. Johnson, who ran for 119 yards and scored all three of the Redbirds’ touchdowns, didn’t play after that and the Ledgers took advantage.
Early on, it seemed like Springs might run Darlington out of the stadium, jumping out to a 14-0 lead on Blake Bauer and Floyd TD runs. But Johnson ignited the Redbirds with an 86-yard kickoff return score and then found the end zone on a 17-yard run early in the third.
Floyd gave the Ledgers a 20-13 lead on his second touchdown, from 15 yards out, before Johnson tied the game with his third TD. Darlington began that drive at Springs’ 12-yard line after a fumbled handoff between Floyd and Bauer.
Springs’ second straight title becomes even more impressive when considering how many starters the Ledgers lost from last year’s team, as well as the fact that this season’s leading receiver, Tyler Wiza, was injured last week and couldn’t play on Thursday.
With Hyland leading the way, the Ledgers proved once again in 2015 why they’re perhaps the premier small-school football program in Wisconsin.
“It’s the best feeling,” Floyd said. “Especially doing it two years in a row.”
Darlington…0 7 13 0 — 20
St. Mary’s Springs…7 7 12 13 — 39
SMS— Blake Bauer, 1 run (Blake Ottery kick), 1:10.
SMS— Fintan Floyd, 1 run (Ottery kick), 7:06.
DAR— Hunter Johnson 86 kickoff return (Chad Golackson kick), 6:52.
DAR— Johnson, 17 run (kick fail), 9:27.
SMS— Floyd, 15 run (kick fail), 7:04.
DAR— Johnson, 6 run (Golackson kick), 1:38.
SMS— Clay Schueffner, 56 run (kick fail), 0:52.
SMS— Floyd, 14 run (run fail), 9:47.
SMS— Schueffner, 56 run (Ottery kick), 7:04.
First downs…11 17
Total yards…169 430
Passes (C-A-I)…4-11-0 0-3-0
Passing yards…53 0
Rushing: Darlington— Hunter Johnson, 20-119. St. Mary’s Springs— Clay Schueffner, 15-233; Fintan Floyd, 28-184.
Passing: Darlington— Ryan Glendenning, 3-9-0-47.
Receiving: Darlington— Brayden McDonald, 1-32.
Sam Oleson: (920) 907-7930, email@example.com or follow on Twitter @sam_olesonFDL