10/31/2019 3:04:00 PM Wildcats to play for section title after upending top-seeded Cloquet
With the Wildcats leading 14-0 midway through the fourth quarter in last Saturday’s section 7AAAA semifinal game at Cloquet, the Lumberjacks were on the brink of scoring a touchdown that would have cut the lead in half. But on second and goal from the three, sophomore Max Pullis created a fumble and recovered it at the four to stop the Lumberjack drive dead in its tracks. The Wildcats then went on an 11-play drive that ran out the clock to win the game 14-0 and advance to tomorrow night’s section championship game against the Hermantown Hawks at 7 p.m. at North Branch High School. The Hawks defeated the North Branch Vikings 21-14 in the other semifinal to advance to the championship game.
The game was a defensive struggle from the beginning Cloquet didn’t move the ball much past midfield on its first three drives of the game, and the Wildcats were also stymied offensively on their first two drives. But midway through the second quarter, a Cloquet punt rolled dead at the Wildcats 14-yard line and the Wildcat offense really went to work. An 11-yard run by quarterback Nick Wasko and a 17-yard run by Owen Dresel moved the ball near midfield. On third and four from the Cloquet 46, Wasko hit Dresel with a screen pass to the left and Dresel picked up eight yards and a first down. On second and seven from the 35, Wasko dropped back to pass and lofted a ball along the right hashmark that dropped into the arms of tight end Zach Mueller in stride at the five yard line. Mueller shook off a couple of Hawks as he stepped into the end zone for a 6-0 Wildcat lead. A high snap on the extra point attempt disrupted the rhythm of the play and the ball clanked off the crossbar, keeping the Wildcat lead at six points at the end of the first half.
In the opening drive of the second half, the Wildcats fumbled at midfield and Cloquet recovered. The defense allowed one first down. But on fourth and three from the Wildcat 31, the Wildcat defense stopped the runner a yard short and the Wildcats took over on downs and went on an impressive ten-play drive. On first and ten from the 19, fullback Sailor Olson picked up 14 yards to put the Wildcats on the verge of another touchdown at the five yard line. On the next play, running back David Kimlinger took the handoff, ran left of center, broke a tackle and dove into the end zone for a touchdown to make the scored 12-0. The Wildcats ran exactly the same play on the two-point conversion attempt, and Kimlinger scored on that one, too, to make the score 14-0.
After the teams traded three and outs, the Lumberjacks took over on their own 22 after a 54-yard punt by Mueller. Cloquet went on a 14-play drive, helped along by a 15 yard personal foul penalty that kept the drive alive. And on second and goal from the three, Pullis came up with the biggest play of the game, forcing the fumble and recovering it to slam the brakes on the Cloquet drive.
On third and ten from the four yard line, Stone took a pitch left and picked up eleven yards for a first down. On the next play, Stone went up the middle for 15 yards. And he went seven yards on the next play. On second and three from the 37, Dresel took a handoff right and picked up 12 yards and a first down. On second and eight from the Cloquet 49, Stone took a pitch to the right and picked up another 12 yards. Two plays later, Wasko knelt in the victory formation to run out the clock, giving the Wildcats a 14-0 win and a trip to the section championship game at North Branch.
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “This was a great defensive effort against a very tough team. Our front eight played very well. Defensive linemen Reese Hallstrom, Paul Blake, Owen Faste, and Sam Harnetty really controlled the line of scrimmage. Inside linebackers Owen Dresel and Ryan Marx filled the open gaps. Safeties Kaleb Bruce and Tommy Dubbs did a nice job playing the perimeter. Sam Pullis created and recovered a fumble late in the game. Defensive backs Nick Stone, Kyle Byrne, and Ryan Sanvik did a great job of playing the pass and keeping everything in front of them.”
Weiss also acknowledged the Wildcat offense. He said “Nick Wasko did a nice job in his third game at quarterback. Cloquet played tough defense, too, and it was a challenge to score points. We had a great drive in the second half where we controlled the ball, used up a lot of clock and scored our second touchdown. We had another nice drive to run the clock out where the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and Nick Stone made some great runs to finish the game.”
Wasko was four of four passing for 51 yards and touchdown. The Wildcats rushed for 222 yards, and really spread the ball around. Wasko had 12 carries for 48 yards. Stone and Dresel each had five carries for 47 yards apiece. Kimlinger carried the ball eight times for 38 yards and Olson picked up 27 yards on four carries. And Ryan Sanvik had a big interception on defense. Football Notes The Wildcats (4-6) should be able to muster a big crowd for the championship game against the Hawks (5-4), since Wildcat fans only have to travel 15 or so miles to the high school in North Branch. Hermantown represented the section in the state tournament last season and lost 44-0 to Willmar in the opening round. The Wildcats have never been to the state tournament, although they have been in the section final several times. Tomorrow night’s game will be one of the best opportunities they have had to make it to state.