Wildcats take care of Monticello and St. Francis, second seed awaits
Wildcats take care of Monticello and St. Francis, second seed awaits
Joe Virga once again ripped a ball from an opposing player’s hands, this time returning it for a touchdown, Will Gillach scored twice and Josh Parks once again rushed for over 100 yards as the Wildcat football team thrilled the home crowd with a 43-29 win over previously undefeated Monticello last Friday night at Chisago Lakes High School. The win made the Wildcats (6-1 overall, 5-0 conference) the conference champions in their six-team half of the 12-team Mississippi 8 Conference, with Monticello finishing in second place at 4-1. The first quarter went by in a flash with no scoring. Both teams ran about ten plays, nearly all of them running plays, on their first drives of the game.
And both teams had nothing to show for those long drives as they were forced to punt. The Wildcats got the ball back at their own 20 with four minutes left in the quarter and began a 17 play drive that ate up over six minutes on the clock. Most of the yards on the drive came courtesy of fullback Kaleb Paehlke and halfback Parks. On second and ten from the Monticello 26, Parks took a pitch to the left and left a Magic defender in a heap with a beautiful hip fake. Parks was knocked out of bounds at the 15 after picking up the first down. Three plays later, quarterback Mitch Berg passed to the right toward receiver Michael Dunne at the goal line. Dunne was pushed in the back just before the ball got there and the pass fell incomplete, but an interference penalty gave the Wildcats a first down at the five. Two plays later, Berg fired a bullet to Gillach just over the goal line near the left sideline and the Wildcats led 6-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
After a nice kickoff return, the Magic started the ensuing drive at their own 35 yard line. On third and seven from the 38, Monticello quarterback Jake Berthiaume dropped back to pass. He threw the ball deep down the middle of the field. But Wildcat defensive back Jeremiah Jones intercepted it and was tackled immediately and the Wildcats had a first down at their own 34 yard line. The Wildcats went on another long drive, this one taking up ten plays. On third and ten from the 34, Berg tossed a screen pass to the left to Virga. Virga headed for the sideline, cut back inside and was tripped up as he started to take off, but not before he got the first down.
On second and seven from the Magic 44, Parks fumbled short of the first down. The ball got knocked around a little and bounced forward and Berg fell on it at the 37 for a first down. An 11 yard keeper by Berg and a nine yard pass from Berg to halfback Jake McKenzie helped to get the Wildcats to second and one at the 15. Parks took a pitch right and, with some excellent blocking ahead of him, sped around the right end for a touchdown. On the two point conversion attempt, the Wildcats were penalized for a false start. But it didn’t matter as Berg threaded the needle through three Magic players and Gillach made a diving catch just over the goal line to put the Wildcats up 14-0 with five minutes left in the half. On the ensuing drive, a holding penalty gave the Magic a second and 30 at their own 20 yard line.
Magic running back Brady Banyai took the handoff, ran to the right and gained about five yards before he was stood up by a host of Wildcats. Virga tore the ball from Banyai’s hands and ran untouched into the end zone. After Bryce Thompson’s extra point, the Wildcats led 21-0 with 3:35 left in the half. Monticello finally got on the scoreboard with 28 seconds left in the half, and the teams went to the intermission with the Wildcats leading 21-7. After stopping Monticello on its first possession of the second half, the Wildcats quickly got back on the scoreboard. On second and 2 from the Wildcat 32, Berg dropped back, got great protection and lofted a deep ball down the left sideline. Gillach had a step on the defensive back and the ball dropped softly into his hands at the Magic 30 as the defensive back fell down. Gillach loped to the end zone and the Wildcats led 28-7. But the Magic weren’t done yet. They moved the ball well on the next drive. On first down from the 13 yard line, Berthiaume lofted a pass toward wide receiver Andrew Manning in the back right corner of the end zone. Manning and Gillach leaped for the ball and both of them grabbed a hold of it. They came down just inside the corner and rolled out of bounds, with both of them still hanging on to the ball. On a play where an offensive and defensive player are both catch a pass and hang onto it as the play ends, possession is awarded to the offensive player.
So the Magic were awarded the catch and the touchdown and, after a two point conversion, trailed 28-15 with 6:51 left in the third quarter. Wildcat Colton Mueller fell on the ensuing onside kick, but the Wildcats couldn’t do much with the good field position and were forced to punt. Dunne’s punt pinned the Magic back at their own seven yard line. After a poor punt by the Magic, the Wildcats took over at the Monticello 33 yard line. It took the Wildcats 11 plays to score from there, partly due to a personal foul penalty that pushed them back 15 yards at one point.
On second and goal from the nine, Parks was hit hard in the left leg and left the game with a deep thigh contusion. His status for last night’s game against St. Francis was uncertain. On third and goal from the seven, Paehlke took the ball through a big hole up the middle, was spun around and backed into the end zone from five yards out. Tight end Josh Dutcher made a leaping catch for the two point conversion and the Wildcats once again had a three score lead at 36-15, with 10:33 left in the game. But Monticello didn’t give up. They quickly moved the ball downfield and, aided by a roughing the passer penalty on the Wildcats, scored with nine minutes left in the game to cut the deficit to 36-21.
On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats faced second and four from their own 45. Berg hit Virga with a quick pass over the middle for a first down and 15 more yards were tacked on for a face masking penalty on the Magic, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Monticello 31. On second and goal from the nine, Virga took a handoff around right and, with the corner sealed off, waltzed into the end zone to put the Wildcats up, after Thompson’s extra point, 43-21 with 2:12 left in the game.
Monticello still didn’t hang their heads, scoring one more late touchdown to make the final score Chisago Lakes 43, Monticello 29. Parks rushed 17 times for 124 yards before leaving the game with the leg injury. Paehlke, Berg and Virga each rushed for over 50 yards. Berg was seven for 15 passing for 123 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “That’s been a nice feature of our offense. We’ve been pretty multifaceted this year. We have a solid passing game with Mitch and a variety of receivers and we have a solid running game with Josh, Kaleb, Joe and Mitch.” “Monticello is a very good team,” said Weiss. “They went down fighting right to the end. They’re a pretty tough pretty physical team and took a lot of pride in their play. A key thing that helped us out was the fact that we didn’t turn the ball over and they turned it over twice in the first half, with both turnovers leading to touchdowns that gave us the final margin of victory.”
Just like the rest of the Wildcat faithful, Weiss has never seen anything quite like Virga’s performance on defense this year. “He’s a ball hawk,” said Weiss. “We work on trying to strip the ball or punch it out of the opposing player’s hands. But to take it out of a guy’s hands and reverse field is pretty amazing. We’ve gone years without any defensive touchdowns and this year we have five of them, including four by the same guy, Joe. His strip and touchdown turned it from a two possession game into a three possession game and I think that put us in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.” Weiss is proud of the way both his offense and defense have played this season.
He said “We’ve put up at least four touchdowns in every game and we’ve played some pretty tough teams. We had some injuries up front and had to use some inexperienced players up there, but the experience those players have received has given us flexibility and depth and allowed us to keep the line fresh. And we’ve got to give our defense credit for being able to get the ball back to the offense. This year, Monticello has gone on a lot of long scoring drives in some of their games and for our defense to be able to get them off the field tonight was huge.” .
The Wildcats won a wild shootout over St. Francis 52-50 to close their season. For a complete recap of that game, check out next week's Chisago County Press. However, the win earned them the second seed and a first round bye in Section 7AAAAA. Brainerd is the top seed, Bemidji the third, St. Francis fourth, Cambridge-Isanti fifth and Duluth East sixth.
The first round match ups are Cambridge-Isanti and St. Francis and the winner of that will travel to Brainerd. In the other match up, Bemidji will host Duluth East in a gigantic mismatch for the right to travel to Chisago Lakes and play the Wildcats on Saturday, Oct. 26. The Lumberjacks will be favored heavily to win over the Greyhounds.