MADISON, Wisconsin — Kicker Zach Hintze added cold-weather clutch situations to his record-setting resume to help Fond du Lac Springs cap a perfect season with a state title.
Hintze connected on three field goals, Blake Bauer tossed a clinching 26-yard touchdown pass in the final minute and the Ledgers rallied for a 37-28 victory Thursday over Darlington in the Division 6 championship game between perennial small-school powers.
"Our kids rallied and came back and shut them off the second half," said Springs coach Bob Hyland, the state's all-time winningest coach. "An unbelievable performance that second half."
Hintze, who kicked a state-record 61-yard field goal in an earlier playoff game and had a 57-yarder during the regular season, connected on a 39-yard boot with 4:19 remaining to put Springs up 30-28.
After stopping Darlington on downs, Springs eschewed another field goal attempt on fourth-and-9 from the 26, and Bauer hit Luke Gellings with 51 seconds left for the final score.
Darlington had erased a 21-0 deficit in the final 2:43 of the first half to tie it at 21-21, but Hintze ended the half with a 49-yard field goal into a stiff wind to put the Ledgers up 24-21.
"It feels like a rock," Hintze said of kicking in Thursday's temperatures in the low 20s. "It snuck in. I don't think I had much more than that."
Hintze also had three kickoffs for touchbacks. He punted out of his own end zone for 55 yards. He even caught a 68-yard pass to the 1-yard line to set up Springs' second touchdown.
It was the fifth state title WIAA title for Springs (14-0), which also won eight private school titles. Hyland improved his record to 413-101-2 in 44 seasons at Springs.
Darlington (12-2), which was also in the title game last season, has won four state titles in 10 championship appearances.
"He's a great kicker," said Darlington running back Jason Singer. "If he didn't make those field goals or kick us deep all those times, I think it would have been a different outcome, so hat's off to him."
Springs, which had allowed only seven points in four previous playoff games, dominated midway into the second quarter with scoring drives of 63, 85 and 30 yards. They took a 21-0 lead on an 18-yard hook-and-lateral play with 4:55 left in the first half.
But after Darlington pulled within 21-6 on a 42-yard touchdown run by Myles Leahy with 2:43 remaining, the Ledgers mishandled each of the next two kickoffs to allow the Redbirds to pull even at 21-all.
On the first kickoff, Darlington recovered at the Ledgers' 23 and needed just two plays to convert. Hunter Johnson's 10-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run cut the lead to 21-14.
Springs also fumbled the next kickoff, giving the Redbirds the ball on the Ledgers' 31. Singer's 14-yard run capped a four-play drive to tie it with 57 seconds left.
Springs regained momentum moving from its own 34 to the Darlington 32 in four plays to set up Hintze's half-ending kick. Hintze's 27-yard field goal accounted for all of the third quarter scoring to put the Ledgers in front by six.
"We got those turnovers, we capitalized on them and we started rolling from there," said Darlington senior linebacker Brett Erickson. "But, they're a good team, so they responded, too."
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