September 15, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
After being shut out in the opener, it looked like the Wildcat offense might be headed for another goose egg against Spring Lake Park. But a late touchdown drive led by backup quarterback Brandon Mariakis got the Wildcats on the board. Spring Lake Park scored early and often, beating the Wildcats 34-7 in a game played at Spring Lake Park Friday evening, September 9.
The Panthers opened the game with a 15-play, 69 yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The drive was capped by an eight yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave them a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats started the ensuing drive from their own 26. On fourth and one from the Wildcat 35, they lined up in an offset formation and the center snapped the ball from the side. Eric Brown was stopped for a two yard loss and the Panthers took over on downs. Two plays later, Panther running back Jordan Thimmesch -Slepica hit the hole up the middle, bounced left and ran 28 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead for Spring Lake Park.
The Wildcats were forced to punt on their next possession, and the Panthers took over at their own 31. A runner burst up the middle for what looked like a long run, but Louis Critelli stripped it at the 50 and Brandon Gorski fell on it to give the Wildcats a first down at midfield. Three plays later, the Wildcats were forced to punt from the Panther 45. Trevor Thurnbeck's punt was downed at the 13.
Seven plays later, the Panthers faced fourth and four from their own 44. They lined up to punt, but the fake was on. They snapped the ball directly to the up man, quarterback Brandon Jones. Jones ran up the middle, cut left and outraced the Wildcat defense all the way to the end zone for a 56 yard touchdown and a 21-0 Panther lead with 5:14 to go in the first half. The Wildcats were forced to punt from deep in their own territory on their next possession, and the Panthers took over at the Wildcat 39. Three plays later, they scored on a 27 yard touchdown pass to make the score 27-0 with under two minutes remaining in the half.
Starting on their own 20, the Wildcats moved the ball downfield quickly, highlighted by a 46 yard run by quarterback Bradee Thompson and a 15 yard pass from Thompson to Thurnbeck. On fourth and two from the six, with five seconds remaining, Thompson's pass bounced off the receiver's hands and the Wildcats went into halftime down 27-0.
The Panthers scored on their first possession of the second half to increase their lead to 34-0. Their defense continued to dominate the Wildcat offense. After the Panthers missed a field goal with 1:21 left in the third quarter, the Wildcats took over at their own 20 yard line and Mariakis came in to relieve Thompson at quarterback. On the first play of the fourth quarter -- fourth and one from the Wildcat 29 - the quarterback sneak gave the Wildcats a first down. But three plays later, the Wildcats were forced to punt. The Wildcat defense held. The Panther punt rolled dead at the Wildcat 18.
On the first play after the punt, Mariakis rolled right and hit Brown for 17 yards and a first down. He then pitched left to Josh Parks, who ran 14 yards for another Wildcat first down. On third and three from the Panther 43, Mariakis ran off tackle to the left for 11 yards and another Wildcat first down. After Parks ran for four yards, Mariakis ran for another seven. He then hit Gorski with a quick 11 yard pass over the middle to give the Wildcats first and goal just inside the ten. Fullback Brandon Fenner ran for five yards on first down, and Mariakis ran up the middle on second down and burst into the end zone to get the Wildcats on the board. Dan Sargeant kicked the extra point and the Wildcats were down 34-7. Spring Lake Park ran the last four minutes off the clock with more tough running and the Wildcats went down decisively for the second week in a row.
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said "Spring Lake Park is a talented team with a lot of returning guys off last year's squad. They were just better than us up front, on both offense and defense. We didn't have an answer. The bottom line is that defensively that we couldn't stop their base plays. They just flat out controlled us."
Mariakis came in and provided a spark for the Wildcats once the game was decided. There weren't too many other high points for the Wildcats. Weiss said "One highlight was the fumble we recovered for the only turnover of the game. Louis Critelli caused the fumble and Brandon Gorski jumped on it. That was clearly a break we needed at the time, but we didn't capitalize on it. Our goal is to get three turnovers a game and we got one. Spring Lake Park doesn't turn the ball over much. Another goal is to not turn the ball over ourselves, and we accomplished that. So we have been solid protecting the ball. I think you can see that a lot of our guys are getting better, but they're not quite there yet with consistency."
Tomorrow night, the Wildcats (0-2) will host archrival North Branch (0-2) at Chisago Lakes High School at 7 p.m. New Viking head coach Nick Nitti is the fourth head coach in the last five years. "I think they've found a real good coach," said Weiss. "And they've got some continuity because they've got a lot of the same assistants. From what I have seen so far on tape, they will present us with some real challenges. They will try all kinds of misdirection plays on offense and will be solid on defense. If we get our offense rolling, stiffen our defense and are solid on special teams, we should be fine. It should be a lot of fun."