September 16, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.

Wildcats pop Panthers; move to 2-0 with 20-7 win

Wildcats pop Panthers; move to 2-0 with 20-7 win
Wildcats pop Panthers; move to 2-0 with 20-7 win

The turning point in the Wildcats' 20-7 win over at home over Spring Lake Park last Friday, September 10 came early in the first quarter. Starting the game's first drive from their own 26 yard line, the Panthers drove quickly down the field. But on first and ten at the Wildcat 24 yard line, the Wildcat defense forced a fumble. Nate Gilman pounced on the ball, and the Wildcats took over with just under ten minutes left in the quarter.

The Wildcats started moving the ball the other way. The drive was highlighted by a 25 yard run around right end by the speedy Cory Lushanko and a 13 yard run up the middle by Gilman. Facing 3rd and 12 from the Panther 25, quarterback Jeff Sargeant gain ten yards on a keeper to the left. On fourth down, an encroachment penalty on the Panthers gave the Wildcats a first down. On third and goal from the four, Sargeant threw a pass toward a well covered Brent Tretsven in the middle of the end zone. But the ball was well thrown and settled right into Tretsven's arms to put the Wildcats up 6-0. Kyle Buchanan converted the extra point to make it 7-0.

Late in the first quarter, the Wildcats were forced to punt from their own 49 yard line. The Panthers muffed the ball trying to catch the punt, and gunner Louis Critelli fell on the ball and cradled it to give the Wildcats a first down on the Panther 19.

Facing third and nine from the Panther 18, Sargeant carried the ball up the middle for 11 yards and a first down. On fourth and goal from the three, the Wildcats decided to go for it. Sargeant again called his own number, and some excellent blocking by the Wildcat offensive line allowed him to waltz into the end zone untouched. After the extra point, the Wildcats led 14-0 with just under eight minutes left in the half.

After a Panther punt, the Wildcats took over near midfield with six minutes left in the half. On second and six from the Panther 47, Sargeant completed a pass to Cory Lushanko near the left sideline. Lushanko didn't see any running room in front of him, so he took off toward the right sideline. He put on an extra burst of speed as he turned the corner and ran down the right sideline. They dragged him down just short of the end zone with a horse collar tackle at the three yard line. On second and goal from the two, fullback Brandon Fenner carried the ball to the left, hit a pile of players and leaned over the goal line for the Wildcats third touchdown after the game. The extra point sailed wide left, and the Wildcats led 20-0.

Late in the second quarter, Michael Schecher burst through the line and partially blocked a Panther punt that ended up going just eight yards down the field. The half ended just over a minute later, and the Wildcats went into the intermission with a 20-0 lead.

On their second possession of the third quarter, the Wildcats faced third and 16 from their own 20 yard line. Sargeant pitched the ball to Lushanko on the right, and he stopped to throw a pass. But the receiver was covered, and Lushanko did what he does best. He cut back against the grain, running all the way to the left sideline as he cut around the corner. The Panthers didn't stop him until he had gained 33 yards down to the Spring Lake Park 37. But the Wildcat drive stalled right there, and the Panthers took over on downs.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Panthers dropped another punt, and who was there to pick it up? You guessed right - it was Louis Critelli, being right where he was supposed to be and taking advantage of the situation. Later in that drive, with Wildcat backups in on offense, the Panthers scooped up an errant pitched and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. But the game was well in hand at that point, and the Wildcats came away with a satisfying 20-7 win.

"Turnovers are such a huge part of the game," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "In our first couple of games, we have done a good job capitalizing on those turnovers. Louis Critelli had a couple of big fumble recoveries for us. The nature of the gunner position on the punt coverage team is to tackle the return guy and be in a position to pick up the ball if it is mishandled. If you hustle and be where you need to be, good things can happen.

"The turnover on their opening drive changed the nature of the game. It was a huge deal for our offense to go out and capitalize on it. Spring Lake Park is mainly a ball control team, and getting behind early forced them to change what they were trying to do and gave us an advantage."

Weiss then talked about the performance of Lushanko. He said "In our first two games, he's made his presence known on field with athleticism and ability that's going to continue to be what we'll see throughout this season. He's explosive and can make something out of nothing. To be able to have the ability to make something out of nothing is more than you can reasonably expect and makes him a special player."

"I also want to mention," said Weiss," that the whole defensive unit played well in this one. They played assignment football and were in great position to make plays throughout the game. They have a lot of pride in what they do."

The fact that the Wildcats lost their bid for a shutout late in the game doesn't bother Weiss too much. "It doesn't take away from our dominating performance," said Weiss. "We all know what happened on the field. A shutout would have been nice, but we also have to get some of our backup players some playing time. We're a little disappointed, but the big picture is that we played well and won the game.

The Wildcats (2-0 overall, 1-0 conference) will try to avenge last season's opening day 28-14 loss to North Branch (0-2 overall, 0-1 conference) this Friday. They will travel up County Road 14 to North Branch for a 7 p.m. clash with their most hated rival.


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