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MANCHESTER — The first word from West Delaware Coach Doug Winkowitsch matched the reaction of just about everybody else that was at Brown Field.
He simply took a breath and said, “Wow.” It was a fair response after what he just witnessed.
The eighth-ranked Hawks and Marion traded momentum in the second half in a back-and-forth battle that saw quarterback Tanner Wessels score the final two touchdowns in a 35-21 West Delaware victory Friday night. The victory put the Hawks in the driver’s seat for the Class 3A District 4 title.
“I’m just so proud of this group,” Winkowitsch said. “They’ve had to work extremely hard to get to where they are at. They’ve done it. I can’t say enough about how happy I am for them.”
West Delaware (7-1, 5-1) owned a 14-0 lead at the break and then the fireworks started in the third quarter. The teams combined for touchdowns on six of the first eight possessions of the second half.
The Indians stormed back with touchdowns on their first two series, getting an 18-yard scoring strike from Trevor Paulsen to Clayton Mohwinkle.
Following a touchback on a West Delaware fumble into the end zone, Marion running back Owen Carstensen broke an 80-yard TD run tie it, 14-14, with 7:53 to go in the third. Carstensen amassed 118 rushing yards.
Each time the Indians threatened to take the lead West Delaware had the answer. More often than not it came from Wessels, who rushed for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
On the first play from scrimmage after Carstensen’s run, Wessels helped West Delaware regain the lead with a 60-yard TD run, matching the 38-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
“The blocking up front paid off,” Wessels said. “It was pretty easy to run through those holes when they’re big.”
Winkowitsch said that score was a key turning point in the game. The Hawks demonstrated their resiliency, which comes from him.
“Coach always tells us never to get too high or too low,” said Hawks senior John Nagel. “We just stay at that happy medium and just keep playing.”
Marion wasn’t finished, following that drive with a 10-play, 61-yard drive. Paulsen converted a 3rd-and-20 with a 23-yard TD pass to Blair Brooks, making it 21-21 with 1:48 to go in the third.
Wessels produced another long run, breaking a 63-yard to make it 28-21 and giving the Hawks the lead for good.
“I was just thinking touchdown, touchdown,” said Wessels, who added a 2-yard TD in the fourth. “It was fun. It was good running that.”
The Hawks went to a well that didn’t dry up. All three long scoring runs were the same play call.
“They were really collapsing on the inside run,” Winkowitsch said. “We decided we had to use him more on the perimeter. He did a nice job.”
Wessels has been an important part to the West Delaware offense this season, replacing Max Ridenour, who accounted for more than 2,700 offensive yards last season. Wessels, a sophomore, entered the game with 1,321 passing yards and 522 on the ground.
“Tonight, we just called his number a couple times and he had those big runs,” Winkowitsch said. “He’s just a really quiet guy but when we need the ball moved down the field we know who we’re going to.”
The first time the Hawks wrestled momentum came in the second quarter. Marion drove 50 yards on 15 plays, melting almost seven minutes off the clock. West Delaware forced an incompletion on 4th-and-goal from the 2. Wessels bolted 53 yards on the first of a four-play drive that changed a nearly tied game to a two-score advantage.
The Hawks defense stopped the Indians on fourth down in the red zone earlier in the first half and then turned them away at the 3 with less than two minutes remaining.
“Those are the plays that make a difference in a game,” Nagel said. “We had to make them. Luckily, tonight we made them.”
The Indians (5-3, 4-2) remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. They received 156 passing yards from Paulsen, hitting Brooks nine times for 104 yards.
“They came up with some big plays,” Winkowitsch said. “You have to give them credit. I think they’ve done a nice job over there. They have some tough kids that came in here and played hard.”
West Delaware has a chance to clinch the district championship with a win next week at Maquoketa. The Hawks understood what was at stake against Marion.
“We knew,” Wessels said. “We want a district title really bad. It motivated everyone on the team.”
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