11/6/2020 2:35:00 PM Wildcats lead let slip away
before failed two-point attempt
In the Wildcat football team’s belated season opener against Cambridge-Isanti at home last Saturday, October 31, running back Austin Pearson scored with 26.9 seconds left in the game to cut the Bluejacket lead to 35-34. A successful extra point would likely send the game into overtime. But the Wildcat coaching staff decided to end the game right then and there and set up to go for two. Pearson took a pitch left and headed toward the front corner of the end zone, but was tackled at the three-yard line, keeping the score at 35-34. The Wildcats tried an onside kick, but Cambridge recovered it and ran out the clock for the win.
On the opening drive of the game, the Wildcats faced third and one from their own 39-yard line. They fumbled the ball but recovered it for a two-yard gain and a first down. Three straight runs – 23 yards by Ryan Sanvik, 11 yards by Pearson and 17 yards by Sailor Olson – gave the Wildcats first and goal from the ten. On fourth and goal from the three, Olson took a pitch left, cut forward at the hashmarks and dove over the goal line into the end zone for a touchdown. Spencer Nelson’s extra point gave the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead.
On their opening drive, the Bluejackets went for it on fourth and on from their own 28. The Wildcats stuffed the run for no gain and took over at the Cambridge 28. On third and one from the 19, Olson took a pitch left and cut upfield, getting tackled at the seven for a first down. On fourth and one, the Wildcats again went for it. This time, they were stuffed, and Cambridge took over at the one with two minutes left in the first quarter. On third and one from the ten, Bluejacket quarterback Connor Braaten called his own number. But the Wildcats strung him out and tackled him for no gain. With a stiff wind in their face, the Bluejackets were content to let the fist quarter clock run out so they could punt with the wind at the beginning of the second quarter. But the Wildcats called a time out with 0.7 seconds left in the quarter, forcing Cambridge to punt into the wind. The strategy paid off for the Wildcats, as the punt only went 20 yards. Sanvik returned it to the 19. On the first play of the second quarter, Wildcat quarterback Austin Siefert dropped back and hit receiver Augie Brown with the Wildcats’ first pass of the game at the five-yard line. Brown waltzed into the end zone, and the extra point made it 14-0.
On the ensuing Bluejacket possession, a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Wildcats knocked Bluejacket running back Gavin Ziebarth out of the game. The personal foul penalty assessed against the Wildcats on the play kept the drive alive for Cambridge. Two plays later, Braaten hit Braden Jones over the middle for a seven-yard touchdown and the two-point conversion cut the Wildcat lead to 14-8.
On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats faced fourth and six from the Bluejacket 44. Siefert rolled left and hit Sanvik at the 35. Sanvik headed upfield and went out of bounds at the 24 with 3:24 left in the half. On third and six from the 20, Siefert called his own number and gained ten tough yards to give the Wildcats first and goal at the ten. On the next play, Pearson ran through a giant hole and scored standing up to give the Wildcats a 21-8 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half. On their final drive of the half, Cambridge used short passes and took advantage of a 15-yard targeting penalty on the Wildcats to move the ball down to the ten-yard line, first and goal. On fourth and goal from the three, Braaten hit Jones with another TD pass in the front right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The Wildcats stopped the two-point conversion and led 21-14 at halftime.
The teams exchanged punts to open the second half, including a shanked punt that gave Cambridge a first down at the Wildcat 45. Yet another personal foul, this time for roughing the passer, helped the Bluejackets move the ball into scoring position at the four-yard line. Cyrus Mattson took the ball into the end zone on first down, and the extra point tied the game 21-21 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
A nice kickoff return by Olson gave the Wildcats a first down at midfield. On fourth and five from the Cambridge 45, Pearson plowed his way up the middle for a first down at the 38. On the next play, Siefert dropped back and lofted a pass toward Nelson down the right sideline. A Bluejacket defensive back leaped and tipped the ball just before it dropped into Nelson’s hands. But the tip knocked the ball forward a few yards and it dropped into Nelson’s hands in stride. Three steps later, Nelson was in the end zone and the Wildcats led 28-21 at the end of three quarters. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “It’s not an easy thing to see the ball coming and then maintain concentration when it gets tipped like that. Austin got the ball down there and Spencer did a nice job catching it and stepping around the defensive back for the touchdown. It was nice to have that opportunity come our way.”
Cambridge used a reverse and their efficient passing game to move the ball deep into Wildcat territory. ON fourth and five from the 18, Braaten threw off his back foot for a ten-yard completion and first down at the eight. Two plays later, he used a spin move and followed the back through the hole for a touchdown, tying the game 28-28 with 9:13 remaining. Cambridge tried an onside kick. The Wildcats recovered at their own 46. But they failed to move the ball, and line up to punt on fourth and 17 from their own 39. The ball sailed over Brown’s head. He chased it down and, but the time he picked it up, had no chance to kick it. He tried running left but was hauled down at the Wildcat 30-yard line. On fourth and 13 from the 33, Braaten passed to convert yet another Cambridge first down at the eight-yard line. Two plays later, Braaten took it in from the two and Cambridge led 35-28 with 4:55 left in the game.
On the next drive, the Wildcats faced second and two at the Cambridge 33. Siefert hit Augie Brown with a short pass to the left, and he was off to the races. A Bluejacket defensive back chased him down and hauled him down just a half yard short of the goal line. No big deal, right? The Wildcats could certainly get a half hard in four plays. But on first down, the Wildcats fumbled, and Cambridge recovered at the three with just over two minutes left in the game. The Wildcat defense stiffened, and the Bluejackets faced third and nine at the four. Braaten dropped deep in the end zone and was swarmed by Wildcats, As he was going down, he heaved the ball upfield and out of bounds. The referees questionably ruled there was a receiver in the area and said there was no intentional grounding.
The Bluejackets punted with 1:37 left in the game. The punt went straight up in the air and bounced out of bounds at the Bluejacket 19-yard line. Pearson took the ball up the middle for 11 yards on first down. On third and goal from the five, Pearson went up the middle into the end zone for a touchdown to cut the lead to 35-34 with 26.9 seconds left. But the failed two-pointer allowed the Bluejackets to escape with the win.
Weiss said “We made a lot of first game mistakes. And it’s weird that our first game was on the last day of October. But the kids worked hard and were very physical after not having gone at game speed for nearly a calendar year. We had opportunities throughout the game but came up short. Like all regular season games, we will learn from it and move on.”
Personal foul penalties took their toll on the Wildcats in this game, contributing to three Cambridge drives. “We just can’t have that” said Weiss. “I’m not sure if it was the first game jitters or something else. Whatever it was, we’ve got to learn when it’s the right time to hit and the right time to pull back.”
Weiss was proud of his starting quarterback. He said “Austin missed the playoffs last season due to injury. It was a long road back from the injury, but he worked hard through the shutdown to get himself in incredible shape. We expect good things out of him at our quarterback position this year. And I thought Nick Wasko played very well on defense. He came up fast in run support. And we didn’t give them anything with deep balls down the middle. Hunter Kral also had a very good game. He is quite a physical presence at linebacker.”
Siefert had a perfect game passing, He was five for five for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Olson, Sanvik and Pearson combined to carry the ball 33 time for 174 yards.