October 4, 2007 at 8:22 a.m.
The Wildcats started from their own 35 yard line after Cooper's opening kickoff bounced out of bounds. On second and six from the 41, quarterback Andy Willhite burst up the middle for 30 yards to the Cooper 29. Two Cooper encroachment penalties and a nine yard run by Willhite helped give the Wildcats second and one on the six yard line. Fullback Luke Spehar pounded his way up the middle and dove over the goal line for a touchdown. Brandon Mueller's extra point made the lead 7-0 for the Wildcats.
The Cooper faithful got excited when, on the ensuing kickoff, the Cooper deep man returned the ball 85 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. But the cheers turned to boos as a holding penalty was called putting Cooper back at its own 36. The touchdown was nullified and Cooper was forced to start at its own 26 because of the holding call. "Those are the things that scared us," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "They had players who could make plays like that. At any time, in any situation, they had the potential to come up with a big play."
The Hawks went 20 yards on their first play from scrimmage, but were forced to punt as the Wildcat defense stiffened. The short punt gave the Wildcats the ball on their own 26. On third and six from the 32, Willhite ran the option left, faked the pitch and headed up field. He headed for the sideline after about 20 yards and a beautiful cutback got him some extra yardage on what turned out to be a 34-yard gain. Nice runs by Willhite, Mueller and Jon Lien put the ball first and goal on the two yard line. Willhite called his own number and cut right. The offensive line bottled up the Cooper defense and Willhite strolled into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter.
On their next series, a holding penalty by Cooper nullified a 30 yard gain that would have put them inside the Wildcat 20 yard line. They were forced to punt on the next play and the Wildcats took over on their own 33. Spehar went up the middle for 12 yards on the first play. The Wildcats tried a little razzle-dazzle on the next play. The Wildcats snapped the ball and started option left. The entire Copper defense moved with them. But Willhite handed the ball off to wide receiver Robert Wilson, cutting in behind Willhite from left to right. Wilson headed up the field, down the right sideline. No Cooper defender got within 20 yards of him as he went 55 yards for the touchdown. The Wildcats missed the extra point, but they still led 20-0.
The Wildcats covered the kickoff well, pinning the Hawks back at their own 12. But the Hawks moved the ball well, marching 88 yards in nine plays with no penalties. Their quarterback scored on a 13 yard run to get the Hawks on the board with 7:11 left in the half. The Wildcats coughed up the ball during the kickoff return and Cooper recovered at the Wildcat 13 yard line. On the first play, the Cooper quarterback rolled right and looked like he was going to be sacked. But he escaped from three would-be Wildcat tacklers, ran left all the way back across the field and outran the Wildcat defense to the end zone, pulling the Hawks to within 20-14 just 21 seconds after the previous touchdown.
A penalty on the kickoff forced the Wildcats to start at their own 15. On third and one, the Wildcats fumbled the ball and fell on it, but they were short of the first down. The speedy Hawk punt returner returned the ball to the 17. Three plays later, Cooper scored on a two yard run and converted the extra point to go ahead 21-20 with 3:58 remaining in the half. In just over three minutes of clock time, the Hawks had shifted the momentum and taken the lead.
But the Cooper lead didn't last long. Fours plays after the next kickoff, the Wildcats faced second and seven at their own 47. Willhite rolled left. Brandon Mueller broke in behind the tightly packed Hawk defense to the left of the left hash mark. Willhite, throwing against his body, lofted the ball to Mueller. Mueller caught it in stride and outran the Cooper defense to the end zone for a 53 yard touchdown. That put the Wildcats back on top with 90 seconds remaining in the first half.
"That was a real nice pass," said Weiss. "For a quarterback to be running full speed, throw across body and put such a nice touch on it - it was a well-executed play."
The Wildcats forced a punt on the first Hawk drive after halftime and took over the ball on their own 23 yard line. On first and 10, Lien took the handoff, burst through the middle and outran the entire Cooper defense for 77 yards and a touchdown. The extra point put the Wildcats up 35-21 just over three minutes into the third quarter.
The Hawks then started a 15 play drive that consumed over seven minutes, moving the ball from their own 23 to the Wildcat 26. But the Wildcat defense stopped the Hawks two yards shy of a first down on fourth and 14 and took over at their own 18-yard-line on downs.
The Wildcats' next possession, a seven-play scoring drive, took just over two minutes. Highlights were a 14 yard pass from Willhite to Lien, a 29 yard run by Willhite and a 24 yard run by Mueller. On second and 10 from the 15, Lien took the ball around left end and went into the end zone untouched. Muller ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 43-21 Wildcats with 3:43 remaining in the game. There was no more scoring.
The Wildcats had three rushers near or above the century mark on the day. Willhite ran for 119 yards on nine carries; Lien went for 108 yards on six carries; and Mueller rushed for 93 yards on just five carries. As a team, the Wildcats averaged 10.75 yards per carry for the game.
"Andy Willhite had a breakout game for us at quarterback," said Weiss. "And it wasn't just the yards he gained. The number of opportunities a player gets with the ball is a function of how the other team defends you. What was really impressive was that Andy made some great reads. It's the best he's run the offense all season. He really executed things well.
Good things happened for our whole offense. We didn't have any offensive turnovers and we only had to punt once the whole game. In fact, in a game where you have over 500 yards of total offense, the kudos should start with the guys up front. The whole offensive line had a very solid game - James Davis at center, Ryan Whitacre and Joe Houle at the guards, Derek Silbernagel and Alex Atkinson at the tackles and our rotating tight ends, Eric Sargeant and Henry Fitzpatrick. They really led the way up front for us," Weiss added.
"We had a rough time for five minutes in the second quarter when Cooper took advantage of our mistakes to go up by one. We kind of looked around and wondered what was going on. But you've got to give our kids a lot of credit. They didn't get caught up in the emotion of the moment. They said to themselves 'let's think about what we're doing and get back on track.' A younger, less experienced team may have fallen into an emotional trap and gotten themselves deeper in the hole. But even though our veteran squad didn't like what was going on, they said 'that's football' and turned it around. The touchdown we got before half was huge and turned the momentum back in our favor."
It's homecoming this Friday night for the Wildcats as they take on Columbia Heights at 7 p.m. But, according to Weiss, the Wildcats have no reason to be overconfident. "They've got a couple of wins under their belt this year," he said. "They're a solid program with experienced coaches. They put their kids in the right positions and, make no mistake about it, they'll be well prepared for us. They're not just going to roll over and let us win - they expect to win the game, too. We have to be on our mark. They do return a number of starters from last year. It will all come down to making plays. Our offense is rolling right now. If we can get our defense back on track to where they were earlier this season and create some big plays on special teams, we should do all right."
Chisago Lakes 14 14 7 8 43
Cooper 0 21 0 0 21
CL-Spehar 7 run (Mueller kick)
CL-Willhite 3 run (Mueller kick)
CL-Wilson 56 run (kick failed)
C-Harris 21 run (Gerding kick)
C-Williamson 13 run (Gerding kick)
C-Merriwether 2 run (Gerding kick)
CL-Mueller 53 pass from Willhite (Spehar run)
CL-Lien 77 run (Mueller kick)
CL-Lien 15 run (Mueller run)