DEKALB – Wilmington senior linebacker Karsen Hansen and his teammates were prepared for anything against Nashville on Friday afternoon.
Hansen was in the right place at the right time for the Wildcats, coming up with a key blocked punt late in the first half.
“All week, [special teams coordinator] Bobby Bolser just prepared us for it,” Hansen said. “He told us we were going to be there, so I’d say I’d give him all the credit for that. We had really good preparation. It just flowed. It felt amazing.
“We may have been down a little bit, so I think it was pretty [big].”
Wilmington’s special teams and defense had a special performance Friday, bottling up Nashville’s runners and holding the Hornets to 107 yards of offense. Behind their stout defense and steady offense, the Wildcats captured their second state championship with a 24-7 win over Nashville in the Class 2A state title game.
“We’re really happy to be in this spot right now,” said Wildcats coach Jeff Reents, whose team finished 14-0 for the second time in school history (2014). “Kind of a reflection of our season. We played good defense, we were able to limit a very good Nashville offense, and we were able to keep their offense off the field.
“Special teams came out and played huge on that blocked punt.”
Hansen’s block came at a critical point in the game. Tied at 7 and Nashville backed up at the Wildcats’ 15 on fourth-and-7, Hansen made his way past Nashville’s block and stretched out for the block. The ball rolled forward three yards and was recovered by Hunter Hayes, who pounced on the ball at the 18 with 2:15 left.
Five plays later, quarterback Ryder Meents scored on a 1-yard run to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead at the break.
Wilmington held Nashville to minus-5 yards rushing on 17 rushes. Sixty-four of the team’s 107 total yards were on the Hornets’ only scoring drive, when wide receiver Isaac Turner broke away and scored on a 40-yard pass from Kolton Gajewski, which tied the game at 7 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Nashville, which rolled up more than 5,000 yards of offense in its first 13 games, couldn’t do much against the Wildcats’ front seven.
“We had a pretty good idea it was going to be tough running the ball,” Nashville coach Stephen Kozuszek said. “They played seven in the box and they did a good job of their outside backers playing both. As soon as they read pass, they were bailing to the flats, and trying to undercut our routes. The times that we did run the ball and needed to get positive yardage ... we didn’t do that.”
Wilmington also had big stops on fourth down Friday – its biggest coming in the fourth quarter and the game still within reach for the Hornets. Hansen and linebacker Allan Richards both stuffed running back Connor Gladson on fourth-and-1, which led to a field goal for the Wildcats and the final 24-7 score.
Wildcats DB Ryan Banas had an interception on Nashville’s opening possession.
“It was great, they couldn’t run the ball on us,” Richards said. “Our DBs did a great job except the one play [for the touchdown] but after that it was great. After a fourth-down stop, it gets the whole crowd going. It gets the whole team amped, it gets the offense going.
“It gets everyone going.”