MADISON – At some point Darlington senior Hunter Johnson will experience a triumph at Camp Randall Stadium.
Helping his team make a fourth consecutive state title appearance in Division 6, Johnson accounted for 178 total yards but couldn’t help hit team dig out of a 27-0 hole, eventually falling 27-14 to undefeated Eau Clair Regis.
It was the fourth straight runner-up finish for the Redbirds, breaking the state record with Lancaster (2011-13) for consecutive runner-up finishes.
A Wisconsin preferred walk-on commit, Johnson finished with 95 yards on 17 carries and a two-yard touchdown, but was bottled up by the Ramblers’ defense. Averaging 13.4 yards per carry on the season, the 6-1, 211-pound Johnson was held to five yards or less on 11 carries. He only had one carry over 13 yards.
He impacted the game in other ways, having two catches for 28 yards, having four tackles (one tackle for loss) on defense, unsuccessfully attempting a pass on a reverse and returning three kicks for 55 yards.
He did account for one of Darlington’s five turnovers when he botched a pooch kickoff, ultimately leading to a field goal.
“It’s definitely one of the top defenses we’ve faced,” Johnson said. “They work extremely hard. Today they put it all out on the line. They knew they had to play their best game,”
The game was the only sour note of the season for Johnson, who was named the WFCA offensive player of the year earlier this week. On just 172 carries in 14 games, Johnson had 2,171 yards (12.6 yards per carry) with 41 touchdowns. Add his touchdowns as a receiver and defense, Johnson finished with 45 scores.
“I can’t put into words what he has done on the football field,” Darlington coach Scott Zywicki said of Johnson. “As a person he’s a classy kid through and through. He’s a high-character kid who knows how to lead by example in the community. I don’t worry about him on the weekends doing things he shouldn’t be doing. He works his tail off in season and out of season to prepare.
“He’s meant the world to us. You don’t get too many kids like him in your lifetime as a coach. He made play calling easy on offense.”
Johnson rushed for consecutive 2,000 rushing seasons and finished his career with 5,599 rushing yards.
“The main thing I took away from this year is it takes 11 guys,” Johnson said. “It’s not a one-man show, two-man show, three-man show. It takes all 11 guys doing their job.”
Committing to Wisconsin in September, Johnson said he’ll start at running back for the Badgers but is willing to move to whatever position is needed for him to make an impact on the field.
“The weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” Johnson said of his commitment to Wisconsin. “The recruiting process can be stressful, people coming at you every which way and wanting different things, but my heart was with Wisconsin. I’ve been a Wisconsin fan since I was a kid and it’s only been a goal of mine to play here.”