Last Friday night, in their final regular season home game of the year, the Wildcat football team played yet another big school – this time, the Rogers Royals – and the outcome was familiar. The Wildcats turned the ball over sparingly and showed some flashes of the team they can be, but it wasn’t enough. Behind 177 yards on 21 carries from running back Ben Dahl, the Royals beat the Wildcats 34-14. The loss dropped the Wildcats to 2-5 on the season.
And the Wildcats got more bad news on the injury front. Starting quarterback Austin Siefert was hurt with about four minutes to go in the game and will be out for the playoffs. Siefert won’t need surgery, but he will not be allowed to do anything contact-wise for a while. Sophomore Nick Wasko, who has been a starting defensive back for the Wildcats this season, started last night at Monticello and is projected to be the starter throughout the playoffs. “Nick has been taking reps at quarterback all along,” said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. “He will do a good job. He has had an opportunity to play a lot on defense for us this year already, which helps the situation. He will just have to step into a new role.”
After the Wildcats went three and out on the game’s opening possession, the Royals started from their own 25-yard line. It took them just seven plays to score, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Easton Miller to Michael Olowo for a 7-0 lead with 6:17 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats followed with an impressive 14-play drive, with much of the yardage provided by the legs of fullback Sailor Olson. On the last play of the first quarter, on first and goal from the eight, Siefert kept the ball and ran left. He was stopped just a few inches shy of the goal line. On the first play of the second quarter, Wasko took his only carry of the game – actually, probably his first carry of the season – up the middle for a touchdown. Spencer Nelson’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
After a long kickoff return Rogers started their next drive at the Wildcat 35-yard line. Facing fourth and eleven from the 12, Judd Anderson kicked a 28-yard field goal to put the Royals up 10-7 with 8:20 left in the first half. The Wildcats went three and out on the succeeding drive. On fourth and 17 from the 30, punter Brandon Mueller leaped to make a one-handed catch of a high snap and got off a 38-yard punt. The Royals went on a 12-play drive that at up nearly seven minutes on the clock, capped off by a nine-yard run by Logan O’Neil to make the score 17-7. The Wildcats again went three and out and lined up to punt from their own 42. This time, the line caved in and a Royals player blocked the punt with his stomach, recovering it at the Wildcat 26-yard line with 31 seconds left in the half. They moved the ball down to the 15 with three seconds left in the half. Anderson’s field goal attempt was short and to the left, and the scored remained 17-7 going into the half.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Royals went ten plays in just over three minutes, capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Dahl. The Wildcats fumbled on the very next play from scrimmage, and Anderson kicked another field goal a few plays later to make the score 27-7 halfway through the third quarter. The Wildcats started the next drive from their own 31. Olson took a pitch left, broke a tackle and was off to the races, running 44 yards to the Rogers 35 before he was hauled down. Four plays later, Olson went in from the five and the Wildcats had cut the lead to 27-14 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. But a personal foul penalty on the WIldcats on the ensuing kickoff gave the Royals the ball at midfield. On the tenth play of the drive, Dahl scored on a nine-yard run to make the score 34-14 just over a minute into the fourth quarter. The Wildcat moved the ball well on their next drive, including a 20-yard run by Olson. But on fourth and five from the Royals 25, they were stopped just inches short of the first down and Rogers took over. Dahl broke free for a 58-yard run on the next play. Three plays later, Wasko picked off Miller’s pass and returned it to the Wildcat 21. Siefert was injured four plays later and Will Saueressig took over at quarterback. The Wildcats fumbled two plays later, and the game ended 34-14.
Olson finished with 151 yards on 13 carries for the Wildcats. “He’s an explosive runner with good speed,” said Weiss. “We did a few things to try to get him the ball and he took advantage of it. There weren’t many other offensive highlights for us.” One thing that didn’t help the Wildcats were a half dozen fumbles. They only lost one of them – and that was late in the game, when the outcome was already decided. Weiss said “Even though we maintained possession on most of our fumbles, each time we burned a play. It’s a no-gain situation and tends to put you behind in a fight for field position. Unfortunately, we had it happen too many times on Friday night.”
Football Notes The Wildcats played the Magic at Monticello last night, but the results were not available in time for this week’s paper.
In the last three weeks, the Class 4A Wildcats have played three Class 5A teams with a combined record of 15-4. Both Rogers and Elk River are ranked in the top ten in the state in Class 5A.
The Section 7AAAA playoffs begin this coming Tuesday, October 22. The Wildcats earned the fourth seed in the section and will host fifth-seeded Hibbing at 7 p.m. The Bluejackets are 1-7 on the year.