October 27, 2011 at 9:32 a.m.

Wildcats storm back against Benilde, breeze past Harding in sections

Wildcats storm back against Benilde, breeze past Harding in sections
Wildcats storm back against Benilde, breeze past Harding in sections

Chisago Lakes 46, Benilde-St. Margaret's 37

If you attended the Wildcat football game at Benilde last Wednesday, October 19 in St. Louis Park and didn't come away thinking you had witnessed the most entertaining high school football game you had ever seen, you weren't paying attention.

And if you didn't attend the game, well...you missed one heck of a game.

The game had an abundance of drama and excitement. The Wildcats made crucial early mistakes and found themselves trailing 14-0 just four minutes into the game. They battled back to cut the Red Knight lead to 24-14 at halftime. Benilde scored 16 seconds into the second half to stretch their lead to 30-14 and many fans and other observers - including sports reporters - thought that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

But the Wildcat offense was just getting started. Dan Sargeant pounded the ball inside, Eric Brown ran wild outside and Josh Parks blocked everything in his path to clear the way. Coach Bill Weiss made a bold, but understandable decision to go for two when the Wildcats cut the lead to one near the end of the third quarter. Quarterback Bradee Thompson converted the two pointer. The Wildcats scored the only points of the fourth quarter just four minutes later to make the score 46-37. The Wildcat defense came up with some big plays late in the game and the Wildcats came away with an exhilarating 46-37 win.

Brown, a junior, had the best game of his career. He rushed 14 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. He caught two passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns. He scored another touchdown after a Wildcat fumble for a total of four touchdowns. He also had a sack near the end of the game that helped to seal the Wildcat victory.

The Wildcats surprised everyone by coming out throwing after starting the game's opening drive at their own 20. After a dropped pass, another incompletion and a two yard run, they were forced to punt. The Red Knights muffed the punt, but fell on it at the Wildcat 45 yard line to maintain possession. Six plays later, they went over from the one to take an early 7-0 lead. After a touchback, the Wildcats started their next drive on their own 20. On the first play, Parks fumbled and the Red Knights recovered at the 20. Three plays later, they scored on a ten yard run and the Wildcats trailed 14-0 with 8:07 left in the first quarter.

Both teams continued to have trouble hanging on to the ball in the first quarter. The Wildcats fumbled two more times and Benilde muffed another punt, but each time the teams managed to keep possession. Early in the second quarter, the Red Knights moved the ball deep into Wildcats territory. The Wildcat defense stuffed them on the 16 yard line, but an ill-advised taunting penalty on the Wildcat gave Benilde a first down at the eight yard line. Two plays later, a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 22. The Red Knights had to settle for a field goal and stretched their lead to 17-0.

The Wildcats began their next drive at their own 29. On third and 22 from their own 42, Brown took a pitch left and ran up the left sideline, dragging tacklers the last several yards for a 34 yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Thompson handed the ball to left end Danny Kimlinger on an end around. Kimlinger ran toward the right sideline and turned it upfield. He was hit and fumbled after he had gained five yards. Brown scooped up the fumbled ball in stride, turned on the afterburners and ran down the sideline for a touchdown. Dan Sargeant's extra point cut the Benilde lead to 17-7 with six minutes left in the half.

The Red Knights scored on a 54 yard run on their next drive and the Wildcats were down 24-7. The Wildcats went on a nine play, 74 yard drive. Fullback Brandon Fenner did most of the work, running the ball five times for 47 yards. With 46 seconds left in the half, on third and goal from the one, Fenner took it up the middle for a touchdown and the Wildcats trailed 24-14 going into halftime with momentum on their side.

That momentum was quickly snuffed out at the beginning of the third quarter. The Red Knights returned the opening kickoff 61 yards to the Wildcat 36. They ran to the left on the first play from scrimmage. The runner burst through the secondary and ran down the left sideline for a touchdown. Benilde missed the extra point, but they had stretched their lead to 30-14.

The Wildcats featured their other fullback, Sargeant, on their next drive. He carried the ball seven times for 22 yards as the Wildcats went 70 yards in 12 plays. Sargeant plowed into the end zone from the one. The Wildcats went for two. Brown took a pitch left and sauntered into the end zone, cutting the Benilde lead to 30-22. The Wildcats forced the Red Knights to punt on their next drive. Parks returned the punt 25 yards to give the Wildcats a first down at the Benilde 40. A personal foul on the Red Knights and an eight yard run by Fenner gave the Wildcats a first down at the 14. Thompson pitched the ball left to Brown. A great block by Parks opened up a huge hole and Brown cut upfield and ran untouched into the end zone. Thompson ran for two points to tie the game at 30-30.

But the tie was short-lived. The Red Knights scored on a 52 yard pass play just over a minute later to re-take the lead at 37-30 with 2:24 left in the third quarter. On the Wildcats' next drive, they quickly moved the ball to the Benilde 49. Thompson rolled right and threw a short pass to Brown. Brown broke a tackle right away, broke another ten yards downfield and ran all the way to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game to pull the Wildcats within one. The Wildcats decided to go for two. Thompson again kept the ball and ran up the middle to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 38-37 with less than a minute left in the third quarter. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said "We went for two that time because the way the game was going they just couldn't stop it and we wanted to send a message to our team that 'we've taken control of the game'."

The Red Knights started their next drive from their own 14. They punted after a three and out and the ball rolled dead at the Benilde 44. On fourth and three from the 37, Thompson pitched left to Brown. Brown ran ten yards to keep the drive alive. On third and ten from the 27, Trevor Thurnbeck made a diving catch of Thompson's pass over the middle to give the Wildcats a first down at the ten. On the next play, Thompson rolled right and hit - who else? - Brown at the right edge of the end zone. Brown caught the ball and kept his feet in bounds for a touchdown. Fenner ran the ball up the middle to convert the two pointer and the Wildcats led 46-37 with 8:41 left in the game.

Benilde took over at its own 39 after the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, the Red Knight runner was swarmed under by a host of Wildcats and fumbled. Brandon Mariakis recovered the fumble and the Wildcats were in business at their own 45. The Wildcat offense ate four minutes off the clock before turning the ball over to the Red Knights at the Benilde 20. Benilde moved the ball upfield quickly. Facing third and 14 from the Wildcat 40, the Benilde quarterback dropped back to pass. He was sacked by a blitzing Brown back at the 50. A desperation heave on fourth down was knocked away, turning the ball over to the Wildcats on downs with just over a minute remaining. The Wildcats took a couple of knees to finish off an exciting comeback win.

Brown was understandably excited after the game. "Our confidence is higher than ever," he said. "We were hoping to get back in the game in the second half. We can never forget that the game is 48 minutes long. Great job! What a way to catapult us into the second season. Awesome job!" Brown was honored for his outstanding performance by being named KARE 11's Player of the Week. Weiss said "We've never had a football player get that award. It's a nice thing for Eric and a neat thing for our program. It's also nice for a northern school to get a little recognition like that. You can see Randy Shaver's article about the award and a video of Brown at kare11.com.

Weiss talked about the comeback win. He said "We felt very fortunate to be within ten points at halftime. We made a lot of mistakes on offense and didn't get into the end zone. On defense, we made some bad reads and were out of position. I can't explain it, but after the first half we still had a good feeling about where we were going and what we were doing. And in the second half, the kids went out and did their job. I give our kids a lot of credit. We, as coaches, trust them and they trust us."

Weiss talked about some of the other players who were key to the Wildcat win. "Having a guy like Dan Sargeant at fullback is tailor-made for what we do offensively. He's the blue collar part of the offense. He doesn't do anything flashy, but he's productive and is going to get us three or four yards every time, keeping the defense moving backward in slow, methodical fashion. And the blocking of Josh Parks in this game was unbelievable. He was putting people on their backs, just running them over. It's one of the most impressive things we did offensively. The offensive line did some nice things and our wide receivers blocked well. Bradee Thompson did a good job reading the defense and threw a few nice passes." Thompson completed just three of nine passes for 74 for yards, but two of the passes went for touchdowns.

Chisago Lakes 36, St. Paul Harding 0

While the fourth-seeded Wildcat football team's offense struggled to find its rhythm in the first half, the defense kept fifth-seeded St. Paul Harding at bay. The offense kicked it into high gear in the second half and the defense didn't let up as the Wildcats shut out the Knights 36-0 in the quarterfinals of the Section 4AAAA tournament this past Tuesday, October 25 at Chisago Lakes. The win sends the Wildcats to St. Paul to play top-seeded Hill-Murray in the section semifinals this Saturday, October 29 at 7 p.m.

It was raining lightly as the game started, which may have accounted for the teams' sloppy play in the first half. On the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage, Bradee Thompson hit Josh Parks for 33 yards. But two plays later, Parks fumbled after a nice run and Harding took over deep in Wildcat territory. They passed for 24 yards on the next play for a first down at their own 40. But two plays later, the shotgun snap sailed over the head of Harding's quarterback. After a mad scramble for the ball, Brandon Fenner recovered it for the Wildcats at the 15 of Harding. Two plays later, Brandon Mariakis went around left and picked up 13 yards, getting knocked down just short of the goal line. Fenner did the honors, going over from the one yard line to give the Wildcats the first pints of the game. Dan Sargeant kicked the extra point, and the Wildcats led 7-0 with less than a minute left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats tried and recovered an onside kick by Hunter Lindstrom. But a penalty not only gave the ball to the Knights, but moved the Wildcats back 15 yards. On Harding's first play, they ran a screen pass to the right. The runner cut toward the middle and broke free. It looked like he was going to score, but Parks ran him down from behind at the eight. The defense again came up big and Harding turned it over on downs. The Wildcats decided to air it out on the next play. Thompson dropped back and let one fly deep down the middle. Trevor Thurnbeck had a step on the defender as the perfectly-thrown ball dropped right through his hands for an incompletion. Two plays later, the Wildcats were forced to punt. Thurnbeck's 42 yard punt rolled dead on the Harding 34. The Knight quarterback fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, recovered by Thurnbeck and the Wildcats were back in business at the Harding 32. A second down run by Parks, complete with a broken tackle, gave the Wildcats a first down at the nine. But the Knight defense came up big, stuffing the Wildcats on fourth down at the three.

Harding went on a 14-play drive that ate up the first six minutes of the second quarter. They ended up punting from the Wildcat 42 and downed it inside the one. The Wildcats ended up punting from their own 25 and Harding took over at midfield. Five plays later, Quade Zupko intercepted a pass at the Wildcat 30 and returned it ten yards. The Wildcats were back in business with 1:07 left in the half. Five plays later, they faced third and 18 from the 32 with 24 seconds left. Thompson threaded a pass down the middle through triple coverage into the hands of Danny Kimlinger at the ten. Kimlinger dragged some tacklers down to the one, stopped just short of the end zone. Thompson spiked the ball at the one to stop the clock with 14 seconds left. Parks went up the middle for a touchdown on the next play and the Wildcats led 14-0 with 11 seconds left in the half.

The Wildcats came out firing in the second half. Thompson's 38 yard run gave the Wildcats a first down at the Knight 30. On second and 3, he lofted a pass to the left side of the end zone. The well-thrown ball settled into Lawrence Zaun's soft hands for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead. On the Wildcats' next drive, two penalties and a sack left the Wildcats facing third and 35 from the Harding 42. Parks took a pitch left and raced down the sideline. A defender stood in his way at the 15. As he went for Park's legs, Park leaped over him and kept going. He brushed off another tackler at the five and ran into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game and a 28-0 Wildcat lead with four minutes left in the third quarter. On Harding's next drive, a 27 yard run on a fake punt gave them a first down on the Wildcat 40. Kimlinger intercepted a pass on the next play and returned it to the Wildcat 46. A penalty on the play moved the ball back to the Wildcat 24. On the next play, Thompson kept the ball, burst through the middle and headed upfield toward the left sideline. A Knight defender eventually ran him down, but not before Thompson got to the 19. On third and 19 from the 28, Thompson kept the ball and ran right. Just as he was being tackled at the line of scrimmage, he pitched the ball to Parks. Parks caught it in stride and made it look easy as he ran into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. The Wildcats lined up in their offset left formation for the extra point. They didn't shift and snapped the ball to holder Kimlinger. He pitched the ball to Sargeant on the right. Sargeant got hit at the three and just snuck the ball over the goal line for two points and a 36-0 Wildcat lead at the end of the third quarter. The big lead resulted in running time for the fourth quarter. The quarter went quickly, the defense continued to play well and the Wildcats came away with a satisfying 36-0 win.

Parks had 11 carries for 107 yards and three touchdowns. Thompson ran the ball eight times for 74 yards and was six for 11 passing for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss praised his defense. He said "The defense came through and kept us in this one in the first half. Harding had a short field a couple of times and our guys stopped them. Our offense rolled in the second half and the defense continued to play well, coming up with a well-deserved shutout."

Injury Update: Speedy Eric Brown missed the game with an injury sustained in practice on Monday. Weiss said "Brown could have played if we had needed him to, but we decided to give him some extra time to heal. Other players were able to pick up the slack against Harding. Eric should be ready to go for this Saturday's game at Hill-Murray."


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