WILTON, Iowa – The stakes have never been higher for the Wilton football program.
A win tonight, and the Beavers will secure their first ever berth to the state playoff semifinals.
“It’s crazy coming back from a season where I was injured most of the year last year,” said junior receiver Cory Anderson, who missed seven weeks last season and is tied atop Class 1A with eight interceptions. “So coming back, getting the spot back and putting in all the work, coming back and making history and just changing the program every week.”
The final hurdle before playing in Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is an 8-2 Iowa City Regina team that capitalized on a handful of uncharacteristic turnovers in Week 6 to down Wilton 49-7.
That home loss is the only blemish on Wilton’s 9-1 season to this point, a game the Beavers revisited during practice on Monday.
“We went back and we watched that film on Monday,” Wilton coach Ryan Hetzler said. “I think we made a lot of mistakes in handing them the ball in really good spots and gave them the upper hand.
“I’m not going to say that they didn’t have anything to do with beating us, because they did, and they played much better than us that night. But we gave them a lot of opportunities that without us helping them, they don’t get those same opportunities and they don’t put the same amount of points up.”
Wilton quarterback Jerome Mays threw four interceptions, and the offense mustered just 157 total yards, far below its season average of 319.4 yards per game.
But since that Sept. 29 loss, the Beavers have gone 4-0 while outscoring their opponents 158-65. They’ve reestablished themselves as a strong defensive team, holding opposing offenses to just over 16 points per game and forcing 11 turnovers. They’re also playing their best football at the right time of the season, overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to knock off Sigourney-Keota in Week 9 and then upsetting No. 7 Bellevue 28-14 a week ago.
It has led to a rematch with the Regals, who have turned the UNI-Dome into a second home after making it to the state title game in each of the past seven years, six of which they won.
“Our team is extremely confident right now,” Hetzler said. “We’re more confident than we’ve ever been. We’re playing hot at the right time. I think we’ve been playing our best football last week in Week 10 and Week 9, and I think it’s going to go right into Week 11. We need to play our best game to compete (with) and beat Regina.”
The Regals tout one of the best offenses in Class 1A with 4,083 total yards, which ranks fifth, and 50 touchdowns, which is tied for sixth.
It all starts up front with a seemingly unbreakable offensive line that includes Steve Sehl (6-foot-3, 275 pounds), Alex Moore (6-foot-1, 245 pounds), Luke Stein (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and Cole White (5-foot-11, 225 pounds).
“They obviously have big guys, but those big guys are coached very well up front, and it’s tough to get your defense in the right spots,” Hetzler said. “If you’re in the wrong spot at one time, they make you pay for it.”
Hetzler and the Beavers were on the receiving end of that in Week 6, when Regina torched Wilton for 500 yards of total offense, 258 of which came on the ground.
Wilton is looking for a different result in Week 11.
The mantra of the season has been getting to places the Beavers have never been before. They accomplished that last Friday, advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, but their sights are set further down the road.
They want to get to a place they've only visited as spectators.
“I took the kids up two years ago when we made the playoffs,” Hetzler said about the Uni-Dome. “We went and watched Regina play in the championship game up in the Dome. I wanted to show them what they’re actually playing for. My older kids have seen it. Once you get up there you feel the intensity of the game. The atmosphere up there is so much different, and for a high school playoff game, it’s an amazing setting.
“I thought it was important for when they were younger as freshmen and sophomores to see that. It was something I did as a kid. We always took a small group up and watched the state playoffs, the final games inside the Dome. It gives you something to shoot for.”