November 3, 2011 at 10:36 a.m.
On paper, it shows that the fourth-seeded Wildcat football team won the statistical battle against top-seeded Hill Murray. But as the saying goes, the game isn't played on paper. Mistakes by the Wildcat special teams gave the ball to the Pioneers deep in Wildcat territory three different times. The Pioneers took full advantage of their excellent field position, scoring touchdowns all three times. It proved to be too much for the Wildcats to overcome. Hill Murray beat the Wildcats 33-15 in the Section 4AAAA semifinal game last Saturday, October 29 at Hill Murray in St. Paul. The loss knocked the Wildcats out of the playoffs.
The Wildcats outgained the Pioneers 332-147 on the ground. Once again, junior Eric Brown led the way, with 165 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. Hill Murray had 103 yards through the air to 13 for the Wildcats, giving the Wildcats an advantage in overall yards from scrimmage of 345 to 250.
After forcing the Pioneers to punt on their opening drive, the Wildcats took over deep in their own territory. They drove nearly the length of the field, including a 25 yard run by Brown, and ate several minutes off the clock. But the drive stalled when the Wildcats failed to convert on fourth down from the Pioneer 20. The Wildcat defense again held the Pioneers in check, forcing another punt. The Pioneer defense returned the favor, and the Wildcats lined up to punt from deep in their own territory. But Hill Murray blocked the Wildcat punt and recovered the ball on the Wildcat one yard line. They scored quickly to take a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Unfortunately, the Pioneers blocked another Wildcat punt in the second quarter, this time taking over on the Wildcat 30. The short field yielded another touchdown, and the Pioneers led 14-0. The legs of Brown helped to keep the Wildcats in the game. From the Wildcat 31, Brown took a pitch from junior quarterback Bradee Thompson on a sweep right. He turned the corner, found a seam, turned on the jets and raced 69 yards for a touchdown to cut the Pioneer lead to 14-7.
The Wildcats got the ball back with less than three minutes left in the first half. They drove deep into Pioneer territory. Facing fourth down just inside the ten yard line with a few seconds left in the half, the Wildcats decided to try a field goal. But the attempt sailed just wide, and the Wildcats trailed by seven at the half.
"We were actually feeling pretty good after the first half," said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. "Offensively, we thought we were real close. We would be getting the ball back to start the second half. We were pretty excited about it." Unfortunately, the Wildcats' excitement didn't last too long. They fumbled opening kickoff of the second half and the Pioneers recovered at the Wildcat 27. They scored on yet another short drive. They missed the extra point, but still led 20-7 early in the third quarter.
On the Wildcats' next drive, they faced fourth down from midfield. They tried a fake punt that was snuffed out by the Pioneers, who again took over in great field position. Hill Murray drove for another touchdown. They failed on a two point conversion, but still had a commanding 26-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Pioneers scored again in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats responded with a 13 yard touchdown run from Brown. Thompson passed to Dan Sargeant for a two point conversion to make the final score Hill Murray 33, Chisago Lakes 15.
Weiss said "The real story of this game was the special teams. When you give the other team a short field that many times it's going to come back to bite you. Overall, it wasn't one of our better games. It was a pretty physical game on both sides and our kids competed hard all the way to the end. Eric Brown had another nice game. He has had a good season overall and ended the season playing some pretty nice football."
Turning to the future, the Wildcats have a lot to look forward to next season. Their starting backfield will return intact - quarterback Thompson, running backs Brown and Josh Parks and fullback Sargeant. "As young as we were this year," said Weiss, "we are going to be more of a veteran, experienced team next season. We have a lot of work to do, but we're optimistic about some of the things we should be able to accomplish next season."