In a battle of two teams that missed 14 days because of COVID-19, El Dorado came out sharp and focused Friday night, and the Wildcats rode senior heavy-duty back Zach Wittenberg to a 43-10 homecoming victory over Circle at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex.
Wittenberg reinforced his claim as one of the top running backs in AVCTL Division III, gaining
207 yards on 28 carries and scoring El Dorado’s first four touchdowns – one on a 72-yard dash up the middle on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage in the second half.
As a result, the Wildcats can clinch a home playoff game next week with a victory at Winfield.
El Dorado coach Wes Bell said he didn’t know what to expect after the layoff.
"I’ll be honest with you, I was super, super nervous about it," he said. "Our administration let us practice all (last) Saturday. We brought the kids back, had about 90 minutes and all we focused on was timing on offense, our special teams and tackling in space. Those were the things that made me nervous.
"The kids did a good job of staying in tune (during the quarantine). We sent them some practice things to do individually, keeping our social distance during that quarantine. We had them film it, put it to Google, so those kids, they worked as best we could."
El Dorado came out strong from the outset, forcing a punt on Circle’s first possession, then blocking it and downing it at the T-Birds 3. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Wittenberg needed just one play to run it in, then ran in the two-point conversion for an early 8-0 lead.
The Wildcats (3-2), who hadn’t played since Sept. 25, then intercepted McGinnis on Circle’s next drive, marching 68 yards in nine plays, capped by Wittenberg’s 8-yard burst for a 14-0 lead with 4:51 still to go in the first quarter.
On its next drive, El Dorado called upon Wittenberg again, and he responded with a 5-yard run that grew to 22-0 after Gannon White’s pass to Jaydon Sundgren on the conversion.
Wittenberg downplayed his numbers.
"I wouldn’t say it was one of my big nights, (but) I would say it was one of big O-Line nights," he said. "I give all the credit to those guys, and that’s why I can have a big night."
Circle (1-4) averted a shutout when Michael Fajardo converted a 16-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half.
But it was more of the same for El Dorado in the second half, as Wittenberg took the handoff from White at the Wildcats 32 and outran Circle defenders to the end zone.
Wittenberg’s heroics came despite battling a sprained ankle on the game’s first play.
"I was on a first-play-of-the-game ankle sprain," he said. "We just taped it up real good, and I couldn’t feel anything."
Bell said he isn’t taking anything for granted against a Winfield team struggling through a 1-6 season.
"It’s going to be their Senior Night, so there’s a bunch of kids who have worked their tails off for four years and the last time they get to play in that stadium," he said.
He said there are still many things on which the Wildcats can improve.
"We’re going to look at the film, there’s going to be some butt-chewings (Saturday)," he said. "There’s some things we need to get better at. We had too many turnovers. We’re going to get that corrected."
It was difficult for Circle, which notched its first victory of the season Monday night.
"They had a great game plan," coach Logan Clothier said. "They came out and executed extremely well. With that offense, they want to take advantage of short fields and wear you down methodically.
"Their receivers blocked very well, and they ran the flexbone the way it’s supposed to be run. Wittenberg runs the ball extremely hard."
The T-Birds return home next week to close the regular season against another talented back in Buhler’s Sam Elliott, at 7 p.m.
Circle 0;3;0;7 – 10
El Dorado 14;8;14;7 – 43
ElD – Z. Wittenberg 3 run (Wittenberg run)
ElD – Z. Wittenberg 8 run (run failed)
ElD – Z. Wittenberg 5 run (Sundgren pass from White)
C – Fajardo 16 FG
ElD – Z. Wittenberg 72 run (run failed)
ElD – Clausing 4 pass from White (Baker run)
C – Stovall 2 run (Fajardo kick)
ElD – Cavallaro 3 run (Bell kick)
RUSHING – Circle: Bougher 12-48, Cooper Chadwell 7-32, Stovall 4-11, Smith 1-1, McGinnis 7-0. El Dorado: Z. Wittenberg 28-207, Sundgren 5-52, Veatch 5-48, Rice 5-39, Wade 3-11, Cavallaro 1-3, Fowler 1-(-1), White 3-(-2).
PASSING – Circle: McGinnis 10-27-1-105. El Dorado: White 2-3-0-35.
RECEIVING – Circle: Brown 4-40, Shaults 3-24, Smith 1-21, Hageman 1-13, Rogers 1-7. El Dorado: Clausing 2-35.