September 24, 2009 at 8:22 a.m.
The Red Knights scored all their points in the first quarter on relatively easy drives their first two possessions of the game, but the Wildcats shut them out after that. After the second Benilde score, the team traded punts and the Wildcats took over on their own 31 yard line. On second and 9, quarterback Jeff Sargeant hit Josh Wilson on a quick slant over the middle. Wilson spun out of a tackle, shifted left and turned it into a 17 yard gain near midfield. But a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, two sacks and a penalty gave the Wildcats a fourth and 29 at their own 30. Brandon Dawson unleashed his best punt of the season, a high-arcing 46 yarder that put the Red Knights back on their own 24 yard line.
The Wildcat defense held Benilde to 4 yards on three plays, and the Red Knights were forced to punt. Jordan Hickcox fielded the punt at his own 34 yard line, cut to the right and ran to daylight. Downfield, punt team member Tyler Rivard turned and saw a 185-pound Red Knight chasing Hickcox. The 135-pound Rivard raced back downfield and blindsided the Benilde behemoth, knocking him for a loop and buying Hickcox some more yards. Hickcox was finally stopped at the Benilde 33 with just under five minutes left in the half. "That play put us in great field position," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "Our special teams were able to do some nice things. We thought we had some advantages in the special teams phase of the game and we were able to exploit those advantages. You know, in football it's said that there are five to seven plays each game that are difference makers, and you want to be on the winning side of those plays. This play was one of those difference makers. "
After the Wildcats lost a yard on first down, fullback Chad Haider plowed his way up the middle twice to set up fourth and 3 at the 26. As the Wildcats lined up to go for it, the Red Knights jumped offsides to give the Wildcats a first down.
A loss of 1 on first down, a 4 yard keeper by Sargeant and a 6 yard run by Haider set up a 4th and 1 at the 12. Sargeant called his own number and pushed ahead for two yards to give the Wildcats first and goal at the 10 yard line with 1:34 left in the half. Sargeant ran off tackle right for six yards on the first play, then ran left through a huge hole and went into the end zone standing up.. Dominic Novak's extra point cut the Benilde lead to 15-7.
Starting at their own 20 with 44.1 seconds left in the half, the Red Knights ran and passed their way down the field quickly, picking up a first down on an offsides penalty on the Wildcats with 15.7 seconds left in the half at their own 42. After a nine yard completion and a near interception by Kyle Hagglund, the Red Knights faced third and 1 at the Wildcat 44. They completed a pass, and the receiver was immediately blasted by middle linebacker Dawson. The Red Knights called their final timeout of the half with 0.7 seconds remaining.
Benilde quarterback Ben Krebsbach dropped back to pass and was hit hard by a blitzing Steven Wagner just as he released the ball. Wagner's hit caused the throw to be off target and it fell harmlessly in the end zone to end the half.
A fired-up Wildcat defense held Benilde to three and out on the first possession of the second half, and after the Red Knight punt the Wildcats took over on their own 24 with 10:42 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats pounded the ball down the field, using 13 plays to eat up seven minutes on the clock. But the drive stalled at the Benilde 37. Dawson's punt was downed at the 9, pinning the Red Knights deep in their own territory.
The Wildcat defense seemed to play with extra intensity. On second and 8, Krebsbach rolled left. As he started upfield, Clay Olson chased him down, grabbed a handful of jersey near the sideline and flung the quarterback out of bounds to hold him to a 1 yard gain. On the next play, the Wildcats flushed the Krebsbach out of the pocket. Dylan Hoyt sacked him for a 5 yard loss, making it fourth and 14 at the 5. Hickcox fielded the punt at the Benilde 44, avoided an immediate tackle, made some nice moves and took advantage of a big block by Louis Critelli to return the ball to the Benilde 24.
The Wildcats failed to move the ball, and Novak came in on fourth down at the 25 to try a 42 yard field goal. A high snap resulted in an off-kilter placement. Novak's kick had plenty of distance, but it sailed left to leave the Benilde lead at 15-7.
On their next possession, the Red Knights moved the ball quickly down the field. Their drive stalled as they failed to convert on fourth and 2 at the Wildcat 37. But on the very next play, the Wildcats lost a fumble for the first time this season to give the ball right back to Benilde.
On first and 10, Dawson blitzed up the middle untouched and sacked Krebsbach for a 6 yard loss. Weiss said "Sometimes after a fumble, teams will try to come after you right away with a big play. Dawson put a stop to that with a huge play on defense. He had nine solo tackles tonight, including two for losses, and nine assists. That's what you look for in a middle linebacker - a guy who's going to be all over the place. Brandon is becoming a real impact player on defense, and he's only going to get better. He's improving every week."
The Red Knights gained 13 yards on the next two plays, setting up a fourth and 3 at the Wildcat 39. An incomplete pass turned the ball over to the Wildcats with 7:33 left in the game. The Wildcats and their punishing ground game shoved the Red Knights down the field. Fullback Nathan Gilman led the way, rushing 7 times for 36 yards. Sargeant and Cory Lushanko ate up the rest of the yards, and after a 4 yard Gilman run the Wildcats found themselves at first and goal at the 10 with 2:17 remaining. But they lost a fumble on the next play, silencing the crowd. There was a chance for the Wildcats to get the ball back if the defense held, but the Red Knights got a couple of first downs to preserve their 15-7 win.
"It was a very good high school football game," said Weiss. "But we're disappointed couldn't finish the job. There are some things we've got to work on across the board. On that last drive, we were able to find some seams.. You always hope that one of those three or four yard plays can somehow break loose for a big gain. But we were getting positive yards on almost every play against a tough defense."
The Wildcats will head up to St. Francis to take on the Fighting Saints tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Both team sport 1-2 records and are tied for sixth with two other teams in the North Suburban Conference. "St. Francis is a team that changed offensive philosophies from last year," said Weiss. "They've gone from a shotgun spread formation to more of an "I" formation, a running formation, this season. It gives them a different look and gives us a different challenge. I think they're pretty big up front, too. We'll just have to put our hats on and go at 'em."