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 five-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 the 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.
“It’s a really special time for the guys, our program, our staff, and everybody in Wilton,” Wilton coach Ryan Hetzler said.
Mays is known for his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback, but his defensive prowess turned the tide in the Beavers’ favor 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.
The Wilton secondary that entered Friday’s game with 15 interceptions, the second most in Class 1A, continued to make plays. Just 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.
“People underestimate how good our defense can be,” Hetzler said. “I think you saw that tonight against the number one team in the state.”
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 one-yard rushing touchdown by senior Trey Brisker to give the Beavers a 22-0 lead.
Wilton had a chance for a possible early knockout blow with the ball inside the Bellevue five in the second quarter. But the Comets (8-2) sacked Mays and recovered the ensuing fumble and managed to get on the board with a one-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.”
Then the Comets did exactly what Knake and his staff hoped for by forcing the Beavers into a three-and-out and marching down the field for a touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Daugherty to Clasen with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Bellevue even held Mays in check better than Knake could have anticipated, as the junior only had 108 total yards through three and a half quarters. But in the meantime, the Wilton defense denied Bellevue an opportunity to tie the score time and time again.
The Beavers stopped the Comets on fourth down on five of their next six possessions, and two of those were inside the Wilton five-yard line. After denying Clasen, who rushed for 134 yards, on a fourth and two, Mays solved a difficult Bellevue defense that up to that point had held him to 14 yards rushing on 18 carries.
He busted a 43-yard run to get the Beavers on the right side of the 50 for the first time in the second half, and then on the very next play he waltzed into the end zone with the ball over his head for a 16-yard touchdown run with 5:20 remaining to clinch a win. The junior finished with 88 yards rushing on 24 carries.
“That felt great to finally break one and burry them,” Mays said.
Wil -- Jerome Mays 32 interception return (Pass successful), 4:04
Wil -- Chantz Stevens 31 interception return (Run successful), 3:24
Wil -- Trey Brisker 1 run (Pass failed), 8:08
Bell -- Hunter Clasen 1 run (Tyrelle Kloser kick), 0:35
Bell -- Clasen 13 pass from Cade Daugherty (Kloser kick), 6:09
Wil – Mays 16 run (Rush failed), 5:20
Bellevue – Hunter Clasen 29-134, Cade Daugherty 10-23
Wilton – Jerome Mays 24-88, Trey Brisker 5-25
Bellevue – Cade Daugherty 17-33-3, 166
Wilton – Mays 6-10-0, 94
Bellevue – Trey Daugherty 6-55, Zach Bullock 4-46, Clasen 3-39, Conrad Ernst 2-15, Dillion Rentz 1-11, Trevor Hager 2-8
Wilton – Brock Hartley 3-65, Brisker 3-18, Cory Anderson 1-13