11/4/2022 2:29:00 PM Powerful running game and timely defense propel CL to section finals
Chisago Lakes 35, St. Anthony 32 Maddox Olson’s interception with 1:43 remaining in the game sealed the Wildcats’ 35-32 win over the St. Anthony Huskies in the Section 4AAAA semifinals last Saturday, October 29 at St. Anthony High School. The win sends the third-seeded Wildcats to the section championship game against the top-seeded Fridley Tigers tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at Fridley High School. The loss ended the season for the Huskies.
The game featured two offenses whose styles couldn’t have been more different but proved difficult for the other team’s defense to stop, especially in the first half. The Wildcats ran the ball 55 times for 377 yards, led by 30 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns by fullback Evan LaValle, and ten carries for 114 yards by Carson Langevin. The Wildcats attempted just five passes in the game, completing one. Meanwhile, the Huskies struggled to run the ball, but showed off a sophisticated passing offense that accounted for well over 300 yards through the air.
Each team scored five touchdowns in the game, so the margin of victory came down to execution on extra point tries. Wildcat kicker Bryce Morley was a perfect five-for-five on extra point attempts, blasting most of them through the uprights with authority. St. Anthony had their first extra point attempt blocked and went for two on their last four touchdowns but were only successful on the last one they attempted.
After intercepting a ball on the Huskies’ opening drive, the Wildcats needed just six plays to score. On third and nine from their own 47-yard line, Carson Langevin took a pitch left. The line did a great job sealing the edge, enabling Langevin to get around the corner. He ran right past several would-be tacklers and raced down the sideline and into the end zone to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead. It didn’t take long for the Huskies to return the favor.
Kicker Morley made a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing kickoff return and St. Anthony started the drive at the Wildcat 47. Three passes got the ball down to the three. On fourth and three, quarterback Caden Rodkewich threw a high pass into the middle of the end zone, and Joseph Randle leaped to catch it for the touchdown. The Wildcats blocked the extra point attempt and still led 7-6.
The Huskies squibbed the ensuing kickoff, and the Wildcats returned it to the St. Anthony 44. An 11-yard run by LaValle helped to get the ball to the 30. On second and eight from the 28, Blake Schmidt dropped a pitch to the right. But the ball bounced back into his hands in stride. The fumble changed the path of some would be tacklers and Schmidt squeezed past them down the right sideline, cut to the middle, and was tackled at the three. On the next play, LaValle went through a huge hole on the left side and into the end zone to put the Wildcats up 14-6. Starting from the 20 on their next drive, it took St. Anthony just seconds to respond. Rodkewich threw a pass downfield toward the left sideline. Wildcat defensive back Josh Byrne had Randle well-covered at the Wildcat 45 but fell as he tried to knock the ball away. Randle ran down the right sideline and into the end zone. After a failed two-point try, the Wildcats led 14-12 with 2:14 still left in the first quarter.
After another nice kickoff return, the Wildcats went three and out on their next drive. Morley had a nice punt that rolled dead at the St. Anthony four-yard line. The Huskies needed just six plays to score. On first down from the Wildcat 24, wide receiver Braden Siroin took a screen pass and weaved his way down the field and into the end zone for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt was overthrown, and St. Anthony led 18-14 with 10:38 left in the second quarter. A 30-yard kickoff return by Langevin gave the Wildcats the ball at midfield. After some more nice work by LaValle, the Wildcats faced third and eight from the 22. Wildcat quarterback Gavin Lewis lofted a short pass over a defender to Schmidt, who ran down the right hash and was tackled at the two. LaValle went over from two yards out on the next play, and the Wildcats led 21-18 with 6:54 left in the second quarter. On the ensuing drive, St. Anthony faced fourth and six from the 30. Rodkewich scrambled for ten yards and a fresh set of downs. On fourth and goal from the three, Nate Bluhm knocked away Rodkewich’s pass attempt, and the Wildcats took over on downs with two minutes left in the quarter. It looked like they would go into halftime with a three-point lead. But on second down from the three, a bad exchange between Lewis and Langevin fell to the ground, and the Huskies recovered on the half-yard line. The Wildcats stopped two runs in the backfield. On third and goal from the six, Rodkewich dropped back to pass, scrambled left and dove at the pylon for a touchdown. After another failed two-pointer, St. Anthony led 24-21 with 37 seconds left in the half.
The Wildcats started on their own 20-yard line after receiving the second half kickoff, went 80 yards in 12 plays and ate up seven minutes on the clock, mostly on the legs of LaValle. On first and goal from the three, Langevin took a handoff up the middle and leaped over the pile and into the end zone standing up to put the Wildcats back in the lead, 28-24. The Wildcats then forced St. Anthony into a three and out. Punting for the first time in the game, from their own 27, the punt was shanked and only went seven yards. On second and four from the 28, Olson took a handoff up the middle, had a couple of nice spin moves, broke two tackles, and finally got tripped six inches short of the goal line. LaValle scored on the net play and the Wildcats led 35-24 with 1:45 left in the third quarter. The Huskies started their next drive from their own 35, and Rodkewich launched a pass into the wind that was caught at the Wildcat 34. Six plays later, on first and goal from the six, Rodkewich was flushed right. As he neared the right sideline, he slung the ball toward the right edge of the end zone. Nathan Lucas dove to catch the ball and kept his feet in bounds for a touchdown. On the two-point conversion attempt, Rodkewich kept the ball and plowed up the middle, reaching the ball over the goal line before his knee hit the ground for two points, and the Wildcat lead had been cut to 35-32 with 11:28 left in the fourth quarter.
After either a bad squibb kick or a bad onside kick attempt – it was hard to tell – bounced out of bounds, the Wildcats took over at their own 40. But they went three and out, and the Huskies took over on their own 30 after Morley’s punt. On third and three from the 39, Nate Bluhm came up with the Wildcats’ only sack of the day to force a punt. Schmidt muffed the fair catch at the Wildcat 37 but fell on it to avoid a disaster. On fourth down and two inches from the Wildcat 47, LaValle took a handoff up the middle and was hit a yard in the backfield. He spun to his right in the grasp of a St. Anthony defender and willed his way to a first down. LaValle burst into the open for 19 yards on the next play. Langevin spun out of a tackle on the next play for a 22-yard gain down to the 13. On fourth and seven from the ten, Langevin took a pitch left but was hauled down at the eight, and the Huskies took over with 2:32 left. A pass and run on first down got the ball up to the St. Anthony 36. On third and seven from the 39, Rodkewich took the snap, drifter left and fired it toward the left sideline deep downfield. Olson cut in front of the receiver, leaped high and intercepted the ball with 1:43 left. The Wildcats got one first down and then took a couple of knees, and they were on their way to the section championship game.
After the game, LaValle was asked how he felt. He said “I’m hyped up. It was a great game. They were attacking my leg. I am pretty bruised up. My pinky got jammed.” What’s his favorite part of running the ball? He said “When you get those breakaways, it’s the best feeling out there. Sometimes they catch you. And its fun dragging guys, too. I’m hoping we get more fans out to cheer us on. It should be a great game next Friday. The competition will be up.”
Maddox talked about his game-ending play. He said “It was my second interception of the season. They had number 12 and number 1 on the left side. I tracked them to the left because those were the main targets. And then I saw them roll to the right. So, I flipped my hips, goy to the right, saw the ball in the air and cut it off at the high point to get the interception. I wasn’t sure he was going to make the catch. My gloves were slippy. I was going to catch it with my body, but I was feeling confident, and I went up and high-pointed it and got it. On Friday, we have Fridley, who’s the number one seed. It’s going to be a really tough game away. But I think we’ve got it. We’ve been going good so far. We’re playing at our highest level right now.”
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “That’s playoff football. It was hard. They’re a good team. They had some exceptional receivers, and a quarterback who could sling it. And we had our hands full. I think the game was a contrast of a heavy run team versus heavy pass team. It came right down to the wire. Both sides fought right to the end. It was a great high school football game. You saw two teams battling it out. I’m glad to get the victory, no question. It’s a shame the result was what it was for them, but I’m sure glad we’re on the ‘w’ end.”
Weiss continued “On the interception at the end, we threw in a wrinkle in our coverage. Max Olson came in. We had just put him in the play before that. He just jumped up and made the play and that’s what we needed at that time was somebody to step up and make a play. And that’s exactly what Max did at that time. Credit to him and the whole defensive unit for executing it. And Evan LaValle is a special player. We’ve talked a lot about him this year. Moving him to fullback added another dimension to our offense and all those things have kind of come through for him. He’s got a nice offensive line in front of him that’s getting better every week. Four out of those five guys are sophomores, and they keep getting better. It’s a credit to those guys to keep pounding like they do.”
It was tough dealing with the passing offense. Every time we put more guys into coverage, we’d have less guys pressuring the quarterback. You’re really asking a lot with a three-man pressure to get to him. You’ve got to sneak a linebacker in there. It’s tough. They were hitting so many holes you want to cover up the zones on. They had us on our feet and it was a real cat and mouse game, putting guys on the quarterback, putting guys in coverage, and we just slipped one through and Nate made the play.”
Football Notes Fridley punched their ticket to the section final by shutting out the fourth-seeded Columbia Heights Hylanders 28-0. What to expect from Fridley? Weiss said “They’ve got a very explosive quarterback and running back. They’ll be different than St. Anthony. They’re more of a run-dominated team. They’ll present another challenge. But we are on a roll. We kind of turned the corner midseason, and I think the Willmar game put us over the top with confidence. We didn’t win every game, but we.ve certainly played better since then.”