October 14, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.

With NSC title in sight, Wildcats fall to Fridley

With NSC title in sight, Wildcats fall to Fridley
With NSC title in sight, Wildcats fall to Fridley

Last Friday night's home game against Fridley will definitely go down as a wild one - maybe one of the wildest games in Wildcat football history. The game featured two defensive touchdowns, the unveiling of a new Wildcat weapon, the fastest touchdown in Wildcat history, the first Wildcat field goal of the season and a play that we will all likely see only once in a lifetime. And the Wildcat passing yardage more than double their rushing yardage. Unfortunately, a late Wildcat comeback fell just short and the Tigers hung on to beat the Wildcats 29-22 in front of a nice sized crowd at Molnar Field.

After a 60-yard touchdown run by Fridley quarterback Patrick Faber, the Wildcats trailed 29-15 with just over three minutes left in the game. Eric Brown returned the kickoff to the Wildcat 37. On second and four, Jeff Sargeant hit tight end Brent Tretsven for a 35 yard gain. But three plays later, the Wildcats faced fourth and 10 from the 22. Sargeant hit Benj Figini with a 14 yard pass to keep the drive alive. A pass interference penalty in the end zone moved the ball to the four. On the next play, Nate Gilman rumbled over the left side and into the end zone for a touchdown. Kyle Buchanan's extra point brought the Wildcats to within seven with 1:14 left in the game.

The Wildcats lined up to try an onside kick. Buchanan nudged the ball straight down the field. Five Wildcats followed the ball, and Joe Davis jumped on it just after it had gone the requisite ten yards. The Wildcats had the ball on the Tiger 47 with 1:09 remaining. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said "That's something we practice every week. This week, it worked to perfection. But it's hit or miss. Last week, it didn't work against Totino."

On second and eight from the 45, Sargeant hit Tretsven for a 26 yard gain over the middle, and the Wildcats had a first down at the Tiger 19 with 50 seconds left. After an incompletion on first down, Sargeant hit Trevor Thurnbeck near the right sideline. Thurnbeck gained three yards and was knocked out of bounds, stopping the clock with 41 seconds left. Sargeant's third down pass fell incomplete, and the Wildcats were down to their last play. Sargeant dropped back to pass with 36 seconds left. But the left side of the line caved in. Sargeant never had a chance to make a throw. He tried to scramble out of the way, but was sacked for a 12 yard loss. The Tigers took over and ran out the clock to secure the win.

The once in a lifetime play occurred on the game's opening kickoff. Kicker Dan Sargeant lofted a kick toward the right sideline. The ball hit near the 20 yard line at the right hashmark. The Tiger kick returner let the ball bounce, thinking it was going to go out of bounds. But the ball stayed in bounds and settled at the 16 yard line. The kick returner, five or so yards away, never moved. The Wildcats jumped on the ball and had it first down on the 16 with just one second elapsed off the clock. The kick returner obviously thought the ball was dead until he touched it, as it would be on a punt; on a kickoff, however, the ball is live unless it goes into the end zone or out of bounds.

On the next play, Sargeant dropped back to pass and lofted the ball high into the left corner of the end zone. His new secret weapon, the 6'7" Figini, jumped up and caught the ball. As he came down with it, the defensive back began fighting for the ball. But as the two players wrestled over the ball as they ran out of the back of the end zone, the referee signaled touchdown. The senior, Figini, has the first catch and first touchdown of his career. The two point conversion failed, and the Wildcats led 6-0 just eight seconds into the game, the fastest they have ever scored at the beginning of a game. Weiss said "Benj Figini was finally an impact player for us in this game. Since this is his first year playing football, it has taken him a little time to get in the swing of things. He can be quite an offensive weapon for us going into the rest of the season. He is a nice complement to our whole offense."

On the next drive, Fridley faced third and ten at the Wildcat 39. They tried a halfback pass. The player rolled right and threw back to the left. Kyle Hagglund intercepted it at the nine. The long Wildcat drive was highlighted by a 13-yard completion to Figini, a ten yard run by Sargeant and a seven yard pass to Josh Wilson, who took a hard hit but hung on to the ball. All three plays resulted in first downs. On third and one from the Fridley 39, the Wildcats fumbled. Offensive lineman Clint Brisson recovered the ball for a Wildcat first down. Two plays later, Sargeant dropped back to pass. He was hit from the blind side and the ball popped loose. The Tigers scooped it up and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and the Tigers led 7-6 with 4:34 left in the first quarter.

Late in the first quarter, the Wildcats faced third and ten on their own 49. Sargeant threaded the needle to Hickcox over the middle for about five yards, and Hickcox dragged a defender another five yards to pick up a first down to end the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Sargeant threw a deep ball toward the right sideline. Hickcox caught it and fell out of bounds at the nine to give the Wildcats first and goal. On fourth down from the 12, the Wildcats lined up for a field goal. Buchanan nailed the ball cleanly through the uprights for his first field goal of the season and the Wildcats led 9-7 with 10:28 left in the quarter.

But the lead was short-lived. The Tigers took just two minutes and six plays to race down the field and into the end zone to reclaim the lead at 14-9. The closest either team got to scoring for the rest of the half was a Fridley field goal attempt that sailed wide right with just under five minutes remaining.

Starting at their own 20, the Wildcats moved the ball well in their first possession after halftime. The drive was highlighted by Joe Davis' 14 yard run that moved the ball to the Tiger 39. On the next play, the Wildcats fumbled for the third time in the game, but sophomore lineman Jonah Westbury recovered to keep the ball in the Wildcats' possession. The Wildcats were forced to punt two plays later, and Trevor Thurnbeck's punt rolled dead at the nine yard line. On second down from the eight, the shotgun snap flew over the head of Fridley's quarterback and into the end zone. He picked it up, surrounded by Wildcats, and tried to fight his way out of the end zone. It looked like he was going to make it just over the goal line near the left hash mark. But he coughed up the ball and it bounced into Hickcox's hands at the one. Hickcox dove into the end zone and the Wildcats had the lead. The again failed to convert a two pointer, and the score was 15-14. Weiss said "Typically, shotgun teams have about one errant snap per game. Jordan stayed in position rather than overpursuing and was in the right spot when the ball popped into his hands."

Later in the quarter, the Wildcats were forced to punt from their own 19. The Fridley return man ran past the initial wave of tacklers and looked like he smelled the end zone. But Tretsven made a nice open field tackle at the Wildcat 35. Six plays later, Faber scored from the one, and, after converting a two-pointer, the Tigers led 22-15.

Sargeant had his best passing performance as a Wildcat. He completed his first five passes of the game, and ended up 14 for 26 for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And the interception came when a receiver turned the wrong way. He spread the ball around, connecting with eight different receivers. Tretsven had two catches for 61 yards to lead the Wildcats. Figini had his first three catches of the season for a total of 43 yards, and Sargeant connected with his brother Dan Sargeant for Dan's first reception of the season, a 16 yarder. As a contrast, the Wildcats rushed for just 90 yards on 44 carries for the game. Weiss said "Overall, I think throwing ability is an area in which Jeff has obviously improved. As a team, we have some routes we can count on and our protection has improved, despite a key breakdown on Friday. Jeff is the most obvious example of our improvement in that phase of the game. Jordan Hickcox and Brent Tretsven had some nice catches and our backs out of the backfield, such as Josh Wilson and Joe Davis, have shown some real nice hands. We have been successful using the passing game at real key moments, even in obvious passing situations and that says a lot about the whole offensive unit."

The fourth place Wildcats (3-2 conference, 4-2 overall) travel to St. Francis tomorrow night to take on the seventh place Fighting Saints (2-3 conference, 3-3 overall) at 7 p.m. "St. Francis is a big, physical team that runs the ball inside," said Weiss. "On defense, we have to try to match up with that power run game. We hope to get a few injured players back, including Alex Vitalis, Stephen Rawson and Cory Lushanko. That will be a big help in some key areas. We're looking forward to playing two games in six days to end the season, but first things first - we need to get the job done against St. Francis this Friday night."

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