WILMINGTON — Wilmington punched its ticket to the IHSA Class 3A state quarterfinals Saturday with a hard-fought 28-7 win against Eureka. The Wildcats weathered an early surge from the Hornets before methodically grinding out the second-round playoff victory and improved to 10-1 on the season with the win.
“We beat a good ball club tonight,” said Wilmington coach Jeff Reents. “We had great ball possession and kept their offense off the field. Overall, it was a great night of Wilmington Wildcat football.”
“We grinded it out offensively and kept the ball on our side. We played well on special teams, and outside of one big play, our defense did some good things as well.”
Eureka quarterback Matt Martin completed a 62-yard pass to Aden Sears in the second quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown dive from Martin to put the Hornets up 7-0 with 3:32 left in the first half.
Wilmington responded on its next possession when quarterback Keaton Hopwood connected with Jake Rodawold on a 45-yard pass to give the Wildcats first and goal from the 7-yard line. Rodawold reached over a Eureka defender to haul in the acrobatic reception. Hopwood found the endzone two plays later on a quarterback keeper to tie the game at 7.
Eureka stayed aggressive with only a minute and some change left in the half, but that backfired when Hopwood intercepted Martin’s pass on the first play of the drive.
“[Sears] was a very good wide receiver. We went back and forth all night,” Hopwood said. “But that time I was able to go up and make a play on him.”
The Wildcats took advantage of the turnover, scoring on a 32-yard passing play from Hopwood to Trey Shaw to give Wilmington a 14-7 halftime lead.
Hopwood credited offensive coordinator Barry Southall for pulling a new play out his hat in the final seconds of the half.
“There were only a few seconds left, and I dropped back and saw Trey was all by himself, wide-open,” Hopwood said. “We haven’t pulled out that play all year until tonight. We were saving it for the playoffs. It’s a great play, and it worked”
Hopwood finished the first half 2-for-2 passing for 77 yards and one touchdown and added one touchdown rushing and one interception on defense.
Eureka drove deep into Wildcat territory on its opening possession of the second-half, threatening to tie the game, but sacks from Jack Narine and Matt Sanchez pushed the Hornets back 20 yards. The sack yardage proved crucial, as Eureka ended the drive with a missed 45-yard field goal.
Wilmington would melt the rest of the third quarter clock away on its next possession, moving the ball 80 yards before Shaw plowed into the endzone from 11 yards out with just less than two seconds left in the quarter to take a 21-7 lead.
Eureka threatened to score again when Martin connected with Sears on a 40-yard pass to put the Hornets in Wildcat territory, but Wilmington stood tall once again, stopping Eureka 1 yard short on fourth down to gain possession.
The Wildats burned more clock before Rodawold found paydirt from 3 yards out in the final two minutes to clinch the impressive 28-7 win.
“It’s awesome to be in the quarterfinals,” Hopwood said. “We’ve been working hard for this all year. This is something all of us have been dreaming of since we started playing football. It’s a great feeling, and we hope to keep things rolling next week.”
Hopwood was 2-for-2 passing for 77 yards and a touchdown and added 62 yards on the ground with one touchdown. Rodawold broke the 1,500-yard-rushing marker on the season with 64 rushing yards and a touchdown. Trey Shaw had 106 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards with a touchdown.
The Wildcats will travel to Byron at 1 p.m. Saturday for IHSA Class 3A Quarterfinal play.