|11/5/2021 1:06:00 PM|
CL comeback falls short against Hylanders, 'Cats out
Columbia Heights 22, Chisago Lakes 20
Facing the second-seeded Columbia Heights Hylanders in the Section 4AAAA semifinals, the injury-depleted sixth-seeded Wildcats were forced to start three freshmen and were without injured starting quarterback Nick Wasko in the first half. The Wildcats trailed 22-7 at halftime. Wasko entered the game at the beginning of the third quarter, allowing backup Tyler Drury to move back to defense. Wasko led a spirited comeback by the Wildcats, but it fell just short as the Wildcats lost 22-20, ending their season. The game was played at Columbia Heights High School. Fumbles had a big part in the flow and outcome in the game, as the teams combined to put the ball on the ground eleven times.
The Hylanders took the opening kickoff and marched down the field. On the eighth play of the drive, they faced second and 13 from the Wildcat 32. Hylander quarterback Matt Rockwell rolled right and passed to receiver Chase Oates at the 20 near the right sideline. Oates broke a tackle and tiptoed down the sideline into the end zone for a touchdown. Rockwell connected with receiver Donnavin Hinsz in the right front corner of the end one for two, and Heights led 8-0.
On the ensuing drive, on third and 12 from their own 31, the Wildcats fumbled, and Heights recovered at the 33. But the Wildcat defense held firm, forcing an incompletion on fourth and 12 that gave the ball back to the Wildcats at the 30. A false start penalty on first down moved the ball back five yards. On second and 15, the Wildcats tried a rare trick play, a flea-flicker. The ball was underthrown, and a Hylander defender ran smack dab into the Wildcat receiver who had stopped to try to catch the ball. The 15-yard pass interference penalty gave the Wildcats a first down at their own 40. The Wildcats then moved the ball confidently down the field, surviving a 12-yard sack along the way. On second and goal from the six on the first play of the second quarter, running back Blake Schmidt took a handoff left, found a hole, and crashed into some Heights defenders before diving over the goal line for a touchdown. On the extra point attempt, the low snap rolled back toward holder Drury and bounced a couple of feet to his right. Kicker Bryce Morley had to stop as Drury reached to his right, scooped up the ball and set it in the right spot. The stationary Morley swung his leg and popped the ball over the onrushing defenders and through the uprights to cut the Hylander lead to 8-7.
On the ensuing drive, the Hylanders faced second and seven from their own 40. Rockwell rolled left and threw the ball toward a receiver just inside Wildcat territory. But defensive back Max Pullis jumped the route at the 50, picked it off and ran down the left sideline to the Heights 35-yard line. On fourth and eight from the 33, Drury pitched the ball low to Easton Morrison moving right. Morrison scooped the ball off the ground and cut back left but was tackled for a six-yard loss. The Hylanders moved quickly down the field. Three passes got the ball down to the Wildcat 20, second and three. Running back Jonathan Hackett took a handoff up the middle and appeared headed for pay dirt but was tripped up at the ten and stumbled before he hit the ground at the two. On the next play, Hackett took a handoff left and jogged across the goal line for a touchdown. Rockwell connected with receiver Hinsz for the two-point conversion, and Heights led 16-7 with 8:28 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Morrison fielded the ball at the left hash at the 20 and ran up the middle of the field. A huge hole opened up to his left, so without breaking stride he cut toward the left sideline. He ran all the way to the Hylander 30 before he was tackled. Unfortunately, the Wildcats didn’t capitalize on their great field position. They fumbled three times in the next four plays, They recovered all three fumbles, but the Hylanders took over on downs at their own 42. On the next play, Rockwell threw a quick pass to the right, behind the line of scrimmage, to tight end Spencer Alvarez. Alvarez, who is signed to play football for the Gophers, is 6’’7” and 260 pounds. He stopped and, holding off a would-be Wildcat tackler with one hand, essentially dunked the ball ten yards downfield to a Heights receiver. Five plays later, with 16 seconds left in the first half, Rockwell hit Hinsz with an eight-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The try for two was incomplete and the Wildcats trailed 22-7 going into halftime.
With Wasko in at quarterback at the beginning of the second half, a Wildcat running back dropped a pitch and Heights recovered it at their own 42. Five plays later, on third and seven from the 17, Rockwell badly overthrew Alvarez and the Wildcats picked off the ball at the eight. After a three and out, the Hylanders fielded a short punt at the Wildcat 40 and returned it to the 35. But the drive stalled at the 17 and the Wildcats took over. On third and 17 from the ten, Wasko hit Nate Bluhm with a short pass over the middle. Bluhm sidestepped a couple of tacklers and headed toward the left sideline. He broke a tackle at the 45 and took off downfield. He was shoved from behind at the 20 and stumbled to before he fell at the nine. On second and goal at the three, fullback Ashton Pearson took the handoff and went through a nice hole for the touchdown. The extra point cut the Heights lead to 22-14 with 1:03 left in the third quarter.
After the Hylanders went three and out, the Wildcats took over at their own 48 after a punt to open the fourth quarter. Five plays later, the Wildcats faced second and seven from the Hylander 17. Wasko picked a low snap up off the ground and handed it to Blake Schmidt. Schmidt headed through a gaping hole on the left side of the line and waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown with 8:12 left in the game. On the try for two, Wasko pitched left to Schmidt, but he was stopped short of the goal line and the Wildcats still trailed 22-20.
On the ensuing drive, a Heights running back broke free, but a Wildcat defender popped the ball loose and it bounced forward, with the Wildcats recovering it at their own 42. Six plays later, on third and six from the Heights 40, a pitch went behind the runner, who fell on it at the 45. After a failed fourth down attempt, Heights took over at their own 43. Two plays later, a runner again broke into the open, but the ball popped loose, and the Wildcats fell on it at their own 35 with just a few minutes left in the game. On third and five from the 40, Wasko pitched to the right to Drury, who ran 13 yards to the Heights 47. On fourth and eight from the 45, Wasko dropped back to pass but was hit from behind as he threw, and the ball went just a few yards before falling incomplete. Heights took over on downs with a couple of minutes left in the game and were able to run out the clock without giving the ball back to the Wildcats for one more try.
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “They had 22 points at halftime. We tweaked a couple of things, but it was really the players who responded and kept them out of the end zone, getting a few takeaways along the way. We got the ball two more times after we scored with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, so we certainly had our chances to pull this one out.”
As for the decision to not start a banged-up Nick Wasko at quarterback, Weiss said “We held Nick out of practice during the week. We wanted to wait and see how he looked on Saturday. He was not moving well before the game, so we went with Tyler Drury, hoping we would have Nick back if we made It to the section championship game. But at halftime, we decided that we needed our top offensive player, Nick, in the game. And this allowed us to move one of our top defensive players, Tyler, back to defense.
The Wildcats had not started three freshmen in a game since Weiss became the head coach of the Wildcats 25 years ago. But with players like Conner Wheeler, Sam Strand and Evan Lavalle out with injuries, the young players needed to step up. Logan Carlson started at center, Carson Drury at offensive tackle and Logan Bender at linebacker. Fellow freshman Chuck Gilman also got some playing time on the offensive line. Weiss said “They all did a very nice job and are a bright spot as we look down the road. Those very young guys in a high stakes game proved they belonged, and that bodes well for the future.
Weiss didn’t blame injuries for the loss. He said “We still had our chances to win this one. Two years ago, when we made out run to the state tournament, we had a number of guys come back from injuries for the playoffs and that helped a great deal. This year, we happened to lose guys to illness and injuries late in the season before we went into the playoffs. So, a teams’ health situation can certainly make a difference.”