September 17, 2009 at 8:25 a.m.

High-scoring Wildcats fly right by St. Louis Park

High-scoring Wildcats fly right by St. Louis Park
High-scoring Wildcats fly right by St. Louis Park

Chisago Lakes 56, St. Louis Park 41

St. Louis Park Homecoming fans were treated to an offensive explosion when the Orioles hosted the Wildcats last Friday night. After over 1,100 yards of total offense and 97 points between the Wildcats and St. Louis Park, it was fitting that the victory wasn't nailed down till 37.6 seconds remained in the game.

The Orioles had the ball first and goal at the Wildcat yard line trailing by 15. Oriole quarterback Greg Hynes rolled right. Wildcat linebacker Cory Lushanko chased him down and nailed him from behind, knocking the ball loose. Clay Olson fell on the ball and cradled it, sealing the 56-41 Wildcat win.

This game could certainly be classified as a wild one from the get-go. The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and raced down the field, highlighted by Joey Reed's 31 yard run. On second and 9 from the 12, Reed ran left. He got as far as the five before an Oriole defender hit the ball from behind and popped it toward a pile of players near the goal line. Wildcat lineman Vince Virga caught the ball in the air at the one and fell into the end zone to get the Wildcats on the board with ten minutes left in the first quarter. Dominic Novak's extra point made it 7-0.

St. Louis Park answered with an eight play drive of their own that took just under three minutes to tie the score at 7-7. On the Wildcats next possession, facing 3rd and 10 from their own 30, Wildcat quarterback Jeffrey Sargeant hit Matt Stamos beyond the defense down the left sideline. He was in the clear for a touchdown, but appeared to trip and fell down at the 18 for a 52 yard gain. The Wildcat drive stalled, and Novak hit a 35 yard field goal that barely cleared the uprights to give the Wildcats a 10-7 lead with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter.

The Orioles answered just over a minute later. On first down from the Wildcat 35, an Oriole receiver got to the end zone 15 yards beyond the last Wildcat defender. Hynes lofted the ball into the end zone, and the receiver caught the ball as he fell to his knees for a TD. The Wildcats blocked the extra point to keep the St. Louis Park lead at three at 13-10.

Due to a personal foul on the kickoff play, the Wildcats began the next drive on their own 18. On first down from the 28, Sargeant called his own number and darted up the middle. He was hit at the 32, spun out of the tackle and into the clear. Sargeant turned on the jets and outran the entire St. Louis Park defense all the way to the end zone to put the Wildcats up 17-13. The Wildcat defense finally put the brakes on all the scoring by forcing a three and out on the Orioles' ensuing possession.

The Wildcats took over at midfield. On second and five, Reed ran left for 18 yards. On the next play, Cody Bergquist took his first carry of the game up the middle for a 27 yard TD to increase the Wildcat lead to 24-13, and it looked like the Wildcats might be starting to pull away. But St. Louis Park had other ideas. They drove 81 yards, with Hynes doing the bulk of the running, and scored with 9:17 remaining in the half. Going for two, Hynes rolled left and threw from the 5. Wildcat Cory Lushanko tipped the pass at the goal line, but the ball went up in the air and floated into the arms of the St. Louis Park receiver waiting in the end zone to cut the Wildcat lead to three.

But the Wildcats answered immediately. On the first play of the next drive, from their own 25, Sargeant hit wide open tight end Brian Eichten in stride just past the last Oriole defender about 15 yards downfield. Eichten did the rest, outrunning some fleet pursuers for a 75 yard touchdown run. The Wildcats went for two, lining up in their offset formation - eight players near the left hash mark and just the center, holder and kicker near the ball. The Wildcats usually shift the eight offset players over to the ball for the extra point attempt. In this case, the players didn't shift. The ball was snapped to Novak and he flipped it left to Michael Shaleen. Shaleen ran right up the middle for an easy two points to increase the Wildcat lead to 32-21.

The scoring slowed temporarily as each defense stopped the other team's next possession. When the Wildcats stalled, Jordan Hickcox's punt on fourth and 15 rolled dead at the St. Louis Park 6 yard line to give the Orioles terrible field position. On second down, a low shotgun snap rolled past Hynes and into the end zone. He picked it up and ran left to the 35, cut back to the middle and ended up at the Wildcat 38 yard line for a 56 yard gain. Hynes rolled right on the next play. Just as he was getting hit, he let the ball fly down the sideline, hitting a wide open receiver at the five. The receiver turned and waltzed into the end zone. The extra point cut the Wildcat lead to 32-28 with 1:32 left in the half.

On the ensuing possession, the Wildcats moved the ball up the field quickly. On fourth down and six inches from the Oriole 35 with 18.9 seconds left in the half, Sargeant called his own number and went 26 yards up the middle to give the Wildcats a first and goal at the St. Louis Park 9 yard line. To preserve their final timeout of the half, the Wildcats quickly lined up and spiked the ball with 10.8 seconds remaining.

But Sargeant fumbled deep in the backfield on the next play and Joey Reed recovered it at the 21. The Wildcats quickly called their final timeout with 1.6 seconds left in the half. Novak came out to try a 38 yard field goal. He got all of it, splitting the uprights with a kick that would have been good from 10 yards farther out. The half was finally over, with the Wildcats on top 35-28. "Dom Novak was a good kicker last year and he improved a lot in the offseason," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "He's clearly become a weapon for us. His range seems to be expanding. It's one of those nice luxuries to know that when you get down to the opponent's 20, you're in field goal range. It gives us another real option on fourth down."

The scoring started to slow down a little bit in the third quarter. A fumble recovery by Steve Wagner stopped the Orioles' opening drive, but the Wildcats went three and out and were forced to punt. Starting from their own 36, the Orioles went on a ten-play drive culminating in a beautiful 33 yard touchdown pass from Hynes that was pretty well defended. But the Wildcats blocked the extra point to maintain a slim 35-34 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Nathaniel Gilman returned the short St. Louis Park kickoff to the Wildcat 45, and Chisago Lakes wasted no time making something out of it. On the third play of the drive, Josh Wilson took a pitch right for a 28 yard scamper run down to the Oriole 16. On the next play, Joey Reed took a pitch left and raced to the front left corner of the end zone. The extra point stretched the Wildcat lead to 42-34.

On the Wildcats' next possession, Jeff Sargeant led the parade that got the Wildcats to first and goal from the 7. Sargeant waltzed into the end zone on the next play, but a holding penalty at the one put the ball back at the 11. After an incomplete pass, fullback Chad Haider ran through a nice hole up the middle for a touchdown to increase the Wildcat lead to 49-34 with just under eight minutes left in the game.

But the Orioles weren't done yet. They moved the ball to their own 47, where they faced fourth and 8. Hynes hit a receiver on a short slant pass to the right, and the receiver split the Wildcat defense and ran all the way to the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Wildcat lead to 49-41 with 5:46 left to go in the game.

The Orioles stopped the Wildcats at three and out on their next possession and took over at their own 21 after the punt. But the Wildcat defense stiffened. The Orioles went for it on fourth and 14 from their own 17. Hynes lofted a pass all the way to midfield, but Eichten leaped to bat it away and the Wildcats took over on downs. The Wildcats moved the ball down to the 2 and Haider took the ball up the middle and into the end zone to put the Wildcats up 56-41 with just a couple of minutes remaining.

The plucky Orioles kept at it. They moved the ball down the field quickly, but Lushanko's sack and Olson's recovery ended a long but satisfying night for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats rushed for 465 yards in the game, led by Sargeant with 168 yards on 13 carries; Reed 115 yards, 14 carries and Wilson, 69 yards on 8 carries. Sargeant also passed for 138 yards, most of those coming on long strikes to Eichten and Stamos. Novak was 2-for-2 on field goals and hit all six extra points he attempted. The Orioles rushed for 224 yards and passed for 285.

"That was certainly an exciting game," said Weiss. "As a fan, I would have really enjoyed seeing a game like that. It was a heck of an offensive display. Their quarterback, Hynes, was the conference's offensive player of the year last year as a junior. His real strength is running the ball, and to St. Louis Park's credit they opened up their passing game and took advantage of us when we didn't execute well on defense.

Weiss continued "It was hard to feel we had the game in control till the very end. On a certain level, we felt good, but never comfortable that the game was ours. Our offense was clicking on all cylinders, but they stayed on our heels all night long and kept it very tight. For all of the scoring in the game, there were very few turnovers. We had none, and they had two fumbles. It was a point of emphasis for us after four turnovers against North Branch last week. St. Louis Park's two turnovers proved to be crucial to the outcome of the game."

Weiss talked about some of the key performers in this week's game. He said "Cody Bergquist is a guy that got banged up in two-a-days and missed a scrimmage. This was his first shot at extended varsity action and he played well on both sides of the ball. He showed us that we've got a nice player who's going to help us out a lot of different ways. To step in and score a touchdown like that is huge for our team.

"Jeff Sargeant had a tough week one, but he's a really mentally tough kid. He was disappointed after last week's game and knew his performance wasn't up to par. But he came back this week, put last week behind him and played a much better game.

"Joey Reed ran the ball well. He's a tough kid and as a senior, he's really starting to come into his own. Josh Wilson ended up getting the start at the other halfback position, jumping up from third on the depth chart. He earned it by running the scout team offense so well in practice that we couldn't help but notice. One thing I really like about Josh is the way he finishes runs. He lowers his shoulder and drives his feet to get that extra yard or two, setting a great example for the whole team about how to finish plays."

The Wildcats will make a second try at their first home win of the season, hosting the Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights this Friday at 7 p.m. "We always have great games with Benilde," said Weiss. They're a pretty solid team that used to be a power running team but now they tend to spread things out a little bit. Our guys will be ready for the challenge. We'll just continue on with what we're trying to do and see what happens."

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