10/15/2021 10:37:00 AM Homecoming Heroics Brycen Morley caps CL's comeback with a game-winning field goal with 30 seconds left
by CHUCK FITZER
Chisago Lakes 24, Cambridge-Isanti 21 In front of a standing-room-only Wildcat homecoming crowd, Bryce Morley kicked a 22-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 24-21 lead over the Cambridge-Isanti Bluejackets. But the game wasn’t over until Nick Wasko intercepted a pass at the Wildcat 12-yard line with eight seconds remaining to seal the win. It was a beautiful night for a football game last Friday. And the Wildcats overcame two fumbles and two bad snaps on punts to pick up just their second win of the season.
The Bluejackets took just four minutes to score on their opening drive. They ran ten plays. The five runs were mostly ineffective, but they went five-for-five on passes and easily moved the ball down the field. Quarterback Ari Sullivan scored on a two-yard run with 8:02 left in the first quarter to make it 7-0. On their first drive, the Wildcats went three-and-out and were forced to punt from their own 40. A low snap bounced in front of punter Luke Thompson and rolled a few feet to his left. He scooped up the ball, rolled left to avoid oncoming rushers and, while on the run, kicked a low line drive that bounced at the Cambridge 30 and rolled dead at the 18. A 45-yard pass completion by Sullivan helped the Bluejackets to move the ball deep into Wildcat territory. But on fourth and 18 from the Wildcat 20, the Cambridge quarterback overthrew a receiver, turning the ball over on downs to the Wildcats with 1:30 left in the first quarter. The Wildcat offense came alive and started moving the ball down the field. A ten-yard pass from Wasko to Blake Schmidt, a 15-yard run by Wasko and a 21-yard run up the middle by fullback Ashton Pearson moved the ball to the Cambridge 25. On fourth and three from the 18, Pearson went up the middle for five yards and a first down. On the next play, Wasko hit tight end Nathan Bluhm over the middle, and only an ankle tackle kept Bluhm from scoring. On first and goal from the three, Wasko faked a handoff and plowed his way up the middle and into the end zone for a touchdown. Morley converted the extra point, and the game was tied 7-7 with 7:29 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Cambridge faced second and nine from midfield. They threw a pass down the right sideline to Braden Jones. Jones caught the ball at the 25 and was shoved out of bounds at the 20. Bizarrely, the referee ruled the pass incomplete as Jones hit the ground, and he still had the ball. The Bluejackets were forced to punt, and the Wildcats started from their own 13 with 2:58 left in the half. The offense stalled and the Wildcat were forced to punt from their own 34. This time, the snap sailed way over Thompson’s head, and he turned and raced after it. He avoided disaster by scooping it up at the five, rolling right and kicking a low line drive that rolled dead at the Wildcat 36. It netted just two yards but kept Cambridge from having a first down inside the Wildcat ten-yard line. On second and ten, Sullivan completed a pass that moved the ball down to the 21 with 20 seconds remaining in the half. Sullivan fired a pass down the middle to what looked like a wide-open receiver at the five. But Conner Wheeler leaped up and batted the ball to Cole Smith at the right hash. Smith gathered the ball in and returned it to the Wildcat 29 with ten seconds left in the half, keeping the game tied at 7-7.
On the first drive of the second half, Wasko hit Bluhm for 37 yards to give the Wildcats first down at the Cambridge 30. On third and three from the 13, Pearson blasted through a hole up the middle and scored standing up. Morley banged the extra point attempt off the crossbar, and the Wildcats led 13-7 with 9:01 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats forced the Bluejackets to punt on the ensuing drive and took over at their own 22. With 6:14 left in the third quarter. But on first down, the Wildcats fumbled on an attempted handoff, and Cambridge pounced on it at the 22. On fourth and six from the 18, Sullivan rolled right and threw the ball toward the right side of the end zone for an incompletion. But the Wildcats had knocked down the receiver a second earlier and were called for pass interference, and the Cambridge drive got new life with a first down at the nine. On third down from the five, Sullivan rolled right and hit Jones in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to give the Bluejackets a 14-13 lead.
The Wildcats started the ensuing drive from their own 37. On first down, they again fumbled, and Cambridge recovered at the Wildcat 37. On first down, Jones took a handoff and ran through a huge hole on the left side of the line all the way to the end one to give the Bluejackets a 21-14 lead. Fumbles on two consecutive offensive plays had turned a 13-7 lead into a 21-14 deficit in the space of less than a minute.
The Wildcats were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, and Cambridge took over at their own 40 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But on second and six from the 44, the Bluejackets fumbled on the handoff and the Wildcats pounced on the ball at the 40. On first down, Wasko kept the ball, cut through a hole on the left and shimmied his way to a 19-yard gain. On the next play, Pearson took the ball a few yards up the middle, cut to the right to some daylight and outraced the Bluejacket defense to the front right corner of the end zone to cut the lead to 21-19. Wasko ran the ball through a big hole on the left side for the two-point conversion and the game was tied at 21-21.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Smith caught the return man from behind at the Cambridge 40 to potentially save a touchdown. Cambridge started to move the ball up the field. On third and eight from the Wildcat 33, they again fumbled, and the Wildcats pounced on the ball with 4:30 left in the game. Four straight runs against a tired Bluejacket defense gave the Wildcats a first down at the 19. On fourth and two from the 11, Pearson ran three tough yards up the middle for a first down with 1:11 left in the game. Three plays later, the Wildcats faced fourth and goal at the six with 41.6 seconds remaining. From the left hash, a confident Morley blasted the ball high and far through the uprights to give the Wildcats a 24-21 lead with 38 seconds left in the game.
The Bluejackets returned the kickoff to their own 43-yard line. On first down, a pass completion got the ball down to the Wildcat 37, and the receiver got out of bounds with 15 seconds left in the game. On the next play, Sullivan dropped back and lofted a ball towards the right sideline. Wasko picked it off at the 12 and went down to a knee with eight seconds left. A wild homecoming game was over, and the Wildcats had come out on top.
“We overcame quite a few miscues to win this one,” said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. “The way Luke was able to get the punts off on those bad snaps were big plays on which they could have had a short field or even scored. Being able to overcome the fumbles on two straight offensive plays and keep our composure was huge. At the start of the fourth quarter, we reminded the players that it was still a one possession game and to just relax and go out their and play their game.”
“Nick Wasko had a good night on both sides of the ball. He went over 100 yards rushing, was three-for-three passing and made some big tackles in a run support position – in addition to ending the game with an interception. Ashton Pearson has a great sense of balance as a fullback and had some key runs for us. Conner Wheeler has been our defensive leader all season, and he got himself in position to make a play on the interception, tipping the ball to Cole Smith. Smith also had a big fumble recovery later in the game. Both guys have a nose for the ball and played very well Friday night. And from the free safety spot, Tyler Drury played a strong game in run support. Nate Bluhm had a couple of nice catches that helped to soften up the defense and gave us a little more room to run.
Football Notes The 2021 Chisago Lakes vs. Cambridge-Isanti football game added a new twist by awarding the "Dala Horse" traveling trophy to the winning team. This trophy represents the Scandinavian heritage of the Chisago Lakes and Cambridge-Isanti communities. This trophy was generously provided by the Cambridge and Chisago Lakes Rotary Clubs. Both football programs have proud traditions that have included championship teams and many great players and coaches, including Hall of Fame coaches George Larson from Cambridge and Jim Molnar from Chisago Lakes. Weiss said, “The Chisago Lakes football team is very honored to win the inaugural game of this traveling trophy and we look forward to competing each year to uphold the values and traditions that our communities were built on.”
The Wildcats (2-4) have another tall task ahead of them tomorrow night, when they will travel to play the ninth-ranked Willmar Cardinals (5-1) at 7 p.m. at Hodapp Field at Kennedy Elementary in Willmar. Willmar will be the third top ten team the Wildcats have faced this year, and they still have to play third-ranked Hutchinson nest Wednesday to end the regular season. Weiss said “This is another tough game that will help to prepare us for sections. We will certainly be battle-tested.”