October 15, 2009 at 8:46 a.m.
"The big plays on offense and four fumble recoveries were huge for us," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "But we were disappointed that we just didn't get it done in the fourth quarter. We were where we wanted to be at the end of the third quarter but definitely not where we wanted to be at the end of the game."
The Irondale offense seemed to move the ball almost at will at times and scored three times in the first half, but the Wildcat defense forced enough fumbles to keep the game close. And the Wildcat offense had trouble moving the ball all night, but came up with a few big plays to keep the team in the game.
The Knights took the opening kickoff and marched 63 yards in nine plays to go up 7-0 just two minutes into the game. Cory Lushanko took the ensuing kickoff at his own 20. He ran into a pile of players at the 25 and bounced left. Lushanko turned the corner and headed up the left sideline. He was nearly knocked out at the 50, but stayed in bounds before he was pushed out of bounds at the Irondale 20 yard line.
Two runs by Joey Reed gave the Wildcats first and goal at the 9. Two plays later, from the 6, quarterback Jeff Sargeant hit Reed with a quick pass to the right. Reed ran straight ahead, met some tacklers and dove into the end zone to get the Wildcats on the board with 7:40 left in the first quarter. The Knights easily blocked the Wildcat extra point attempt as someone forgot to block a player coming right up the middle. The Wildcats trailed 7-6.
The Knights moved the ball well on their next drive and after ten plays had the ball first and goal on the Wildcat 9. Clay Olson tackled the runner for a 2 yard loss on first down. On second down, Bryan Eichten came untouched from left end and sacked Irondale quarterback Tim Colwell for a ten yard loss. The Knights picked up 12 yards on third down, but had to settle for a field goal to increase their lead to 10-6.
After the Wildcats went three and out, the Knights moved the ball well again and looked like they were headed into the end zone. On second and goal from the four, a high snap threw off Colwell's rhythm. As Colwell gathered in the ball, Eichten hit him hard and knocked the ball loose. Wildcat Michael Schecher recovered and the Wildcats had dodged a bullet. But they couldn't move the ball, and were forced to punt from the 12. Brandon Dawson's punt sailed to the Wildcat 43, where Irondale started first and ten.
It took the Knights just 6 plays to get into the end zone, capped off by a quarterback draw on second and goal from the 17. The extra point made it 17-6 in favor of Irondale. The Wildcats failed to move the ball again, and the Knights took over at their own 41 after a short punt. The Knights went for it on fourth and 10, using a shovel pass to get 14 yards and a first down at the Wildcat 46. On the next play, they completed a pass over the middle. But the Wildcats knocked the ball loose and recovered a fumble for the second time in the game with just over five minutes left in the half. Neither team moved the ball much the rest of the half, and they went into the intermission with Irondale still up 17-6.
It didn't take long for the Wildcats to tighten things up. After Irondale's second half opening kickoff went out of bounds, the Wildcats started from their own 35. On first down, Gilman took the handoff from Sargeant, hit the line, burst through and the race was on. He ran downfield and a speedy Irondale running back was catching up to him. The player dove at Gilman's ankles just as Gilman put on a little extra burst of speed at the 20, and Gilman motored the rest of the way into the end zone for a touchdown. "That was a triple option play to the tight end side," said Weiss. "Bryan Eichten made a really nice block to open things up and Gilman did a nice job taking it the rest of the way. Eichten really played a nice game for us." Sargeant then hit Eichten over the middle on a successful 2 point conversion to pull the Wildcats within a field goal at 17-14.
The Wildcat defense stopped the Irondale drive at the Knight 31, and after a nice punt the Wildcats took over on their own 30. Sargeant tried a quick pass over the middle on first down, but the ball was picked off and returned to the Wildcat 4. The Knights went in on the next play to push their lead back to 10 with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
On their next drive, the Wildcats faced fourth and 16 from the Irondale 47. They lined up to punt and faked it, but the pass fell incomplete. The Knights again drove down the field quickly, and faced a third and two from the ten yard line. But they lost a fumble for the fourth time in the game, with the Wildcats recovering at their own 7. Again, the Wildcats had trouble moving the ball and faced a fourth and 2 from the 15. The Wildcats lined up to punt. Everyone in the stadium, including at least some of the Wildcat coaches, were surprised that the ball was snapped to upback Jeff Sargeant, and he ran 5 yards for a first down. Two plays later, the Wildcats faced third and six from their own 24. On a counter play, Wilson took the handoff, found a crease to the right got an opening and took the ball all the way down the field, staying just inches ahead of his pursuers till he hit the end zone. "Wilson had some speed," said Weiss, "and we've seen him do this before. That was just a basic play we installed at the beginning of the season and it was well executed that time." Dominic Novak hit the extra point to pull the Wildcats back within three near the end of the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, the Knights tool over on their own 16 with just over 11 minutes left in the game. They went on a 90 second, 7 play drive, including a 27 yard pass play and a 27 yard run. But this time they didn't fumble. On first and goal from the five, they ran it in to stretch their lead back to 10 points at 31-21. The Wildcats managed one first down on their next drive, but punted on fourth and 10 with 6:23 remaining. The Knights moved the ball downfield and faced third and 12 on the Chisago Lakes 28 with 4:10 remaining. Colwell threw a pass toward the goal line that ended up being a jump ball. Lushanko snatched it out of the air at the 3 yard line, and yet another Knight turnover kept the Wildcats in the game.
But the Wildcat opportunity didn't last long. After getting one first down, the Wildcats faced second and 9 at the 15. They pitched the ball to Joey Reed, who stopped to throw the ball on the halfback option. Reed was hit hard as he threw. The ball went off course, and an Irondale player caught the ball lying on his back at the Wildcat 18 with 3:29 remaining. Five plays later, the Knights added one more touchdown with a minute remaining to make the final score Irondale 38, Chisago Lakes 21.
The Wildcats defense forced five turnovers, and Weiss noticed one player who stood out. "Steve Wagner was tenacious all night at defensive end," he said. "He seemed like he was playing at a hundred miles an hour. He had that nice takeaway in the third quarter where he just ripped the ball out of the ball carrier's hands."
In the last home game of the season, the Wildcats (2-4) will take on the Fridley Tigers (5-1) tonight, Thursday, October 15, at 7 p.m. The Tigers are coming off of a surprising loss to an inconsistent St. Francis team, and Weiss thinks it might be the right time to play Fridley. He said "We know we're facing one of the top teams in the conference. But I think it would benefit us any time an undefeated team loses for the first time. The perception that they were unbeatable was stronger than reality, and our guys now know that Fridley can be beaten. It's our last home game, so we've got another incentive to beat them and I think we'll come out ready to roll.
The Wildcats will close the regular season next Wednesday, October 21 at Columbia Heights at 7 p.m.
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