September 30, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.
The Wildcats (4-0 overall, 3-0 conference) are the only undefeated team in the North Suburban Conference. They are in first place in conference play. The Wildcats' next opponent, Totino-Grace (3-1 overall, 2-0 conference), is not eligible for the conference championship this season because they are only playing six conference games. "A 4-0 start is certainly exciting," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "It's absolutely where we want to be. And what a great environment. As you looked up, the only open seats were on the visitors' side of the field and I think some of our fans even sat over there."
Kyle Buchanan's game-opening kickoff with the wind sailed into the end zone for a touchback. On the opening drive, the Hylanders faced third and 12 from their own 18 yard line. As their quarterback dropped back to pass, Dylan Hoyt burst through and sacked him so quickly he didn't even have time to think about throwing g a pass. The Hylanders' punt into the wind gave the Wildcats a first down at the Columbia Heights 26. The Hylanders recovered a Wildcat fumble two plays later and started to move the ball down the field. But Hickcox recovered a Columbia Heights fumble at the Wildcat 49 yard line. Lushanko ran off tackle for 11 yards on first down. On the next play, Lushanko took the handoff, bounced right and cutback left. He ran around the left end and outraced the Hylander defense into the end zone. Buchanan's extra point made it 7-0.
After another stalled Hylander drive and a short punt, the Wildcats took over at their own 48. On third and three, Lushanko ran around the right end for 16 yards and was injured as he was taken down near the sideline. Danny Kimlinger, with help from a nice block by Joe Davis, took a pitch left and rambled for 17 yards. On the next play, Thurnbeck ran right, broke a couple of tackles and dove into the end zone for a touchdown. "After Cory tweaked his ankle," said Weiss, "he really wanted to go back in. But he wouldn't have been at full speed and there was no sense risking a bigger injury. I think he'll be ready for next week's game against Totino." Kimlinger, Thurnbeck, Davis and Josh Wilson all shouldered part of the additional load in the backfield after Lushanko left the game. Weiss said "It's nice to have so much speed, versatility and depth at a key position. The timing couldn't have been better for Wilson to rejoin us after missing the first three games because of mono. He's a shifty back with good speed who really adds something to our backfield."
Columbia Heights moved the ball well on their next drive. Facing fourth and four from the Wildcat 25, Hylander running back Jojuan Harper took the handoff, ran right, cut upfield and raced into the end zone to cut the Wildcat lead to 14-7 after one quarter. The Wildcats moved the ball well on their next possession. Facing fourth and two from the Columbia Heights 41, quarterback Sargeant kept the ball and burst through the left side of the line for a 27 yard gain. On the next play, Sargeant dropped back to pass and lofted a pass that dropped into Hickcox's arms in the end zone. After the extra point, the Wildcats led 21-7.
Heights started their next drive from their own 28. On third and eight, the quarterback threw a pass toward a receiver near the left sideline. Thurnbeck timed it perfectly, stepped in front of the pass, snatched it and raced untouched into the end zone before the Columbia Heights players even knew what hit them. The two-point conversion failed, and the Wildcats led 27-7. "Weiss said "In three of our four games this season, the defense has scored at least a touchdown or a safety. As a unit, they have really been able to get after it and make things happen. They have been very aggressive out there."
After the teams exchanged punts, Columbia Heights began the final drive of the half at their own 49 yard line with 2:36 remaining. They moved the ball well facing third and goal from the ten yard line, the quarterback dropped back to pass. But Brandon Gorski came up with a big sack, dropping him for a ten yard loss. The Hylanders' fourth down pass fell incomplete, and the half ended with the Wildcats leading by 20.
The Wildcats snuffed out any thoughts of a Hylander comeback with a 14 play, seven minute touchdown drive to open the second half. A key play in the drive was a fake punt by the Wildcats. Facing fourth and five at the 50, the Wildcats sent six players off the field and six more came on to seemingly set up the punt. But the Wildcats line up quickly, catching the Hylanders off guard. Sargeant took the snap and ran six yard for a first down. Later in the drive, Hickcox hauled in a 19 yard pass from Sargeant to give the Wildcats first and goal at the two. Sargeant's pass found a wide open Hickcox in the back of the end zone and the Wildcats led 34-7.
The Wildcats topped Columbia Heights on the next drive. Michael Schecher's sack for an 11 yard loss was the key play in forcing another punt. The Wildcats moved downfield toward another score, but fumbled on the two yard line and the Hylanders recovered. The Wildcats stopped the Hylanders on downs on the next drive, but fumbled again after moving the ball down to the Columbia Heights 16. Louis Critelli made a touchdown saving tackle near midfield on the next play. Six plays later, Harper ran 15 yards into the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Wildcat lead to 34-14 with 4:30 left in the game. A couple of minutes later, Joe Davis put the icing on the cake, recording a safety to make the final score Chisago Lakes 36, Columbia Heights 14.
Though the Wildcat win was impressive, not everything was rosy. Two fumbles deep in Hylander territory caused some concern, as did a number of encroachment penalties on the defense. "Our defense gets pretty anxious and aggressive," said Weiss. "The downside of aggression is that you get penalties like that sometimes. That doesn't mean we like them. It's one of those areas we'll work on. But sometimes the kids move around like caged animals and you've got to hold them back."
Wildcat kicker Buchanan had four touchbacks in the game. "Kyle had some real nice kickoffs, using the wind to his advantage," said Weiss. "But he also showed a pretty good leg even kicking into the wind. He had a real good game." Sargeant was an efficient five for seven for 66 yards passing and two touchdowns. And despite leaving the game in the first quarter, Lushanko led the potent Wildcat rushing attck (301 yards overall) with 67 yards on three carries.
The Hylanders' Harper may have been the most impressive running back the Wildcats have faced so far this season. His 206 yards rushing on 30 carries accounted for most of the Hylanders' 264 yards of total offense, and he is in the top ten in rushing in the state so far this season with 647 yards. Weiss, for one, was impressed. "He certainly was the workhorse," said Weiss. "They gave him the ball a lot and he found a couple of seams for big gains. He was the main piece of their offense. But overall, we were able to limit the effectiveness of their offense where it counted and a good defensive effort kept them out of end zone, for the most part"
Other Game-Related Activities
Brian Ammerman's parents, Stan and Brenda, participated in the pre-game coin toss. Brian was a classmate of this year's senior football players who was killed in an accident before his freshman year and those seniors have helped to keep Brian's memory alive. There was also a pre-game bratwurst feed and Cole-A-Rama, a fundraiser featuring a raffle, games and face painting. Cole-A-Rama was held in conjunction with Coach to Cure MD (coachtocuremd.org), a nationwide effort to raise awareness and funds to combat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy. Cole Anderson, a young man living with the disease, led the Wildcats onto the field prior to the game.
At 7 p.m. this Friday, the Wildcats will head to Fridley to take on North Suburban Conference foe Totino Grace. The Eagles lost to non-conference opponent Mahtomedi last week, but that doesn't mean they are any less formidable than they have been in winning six of the last eight Class AAAA state championships. "But they're not invincible," said Weiss. "It's exciting to be able to play a team that talented and get to see where you're really at. Our guys are excited to accept this great opportunity. From year to year, you never know how different groups of players will respond to a big challenge like this one and this year's team is one of the most competitive groups of players I have ever been around."