September 25, 2014 at 2:47 p.m.
Kimlinger rushed for 132 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns. As a passer, he went 6 for 11 with one touchdown. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said, “Joe played a great game and he made some really good decisions out there. And he not only makes good decisions, but he makes plays. He’s very quick and has decent speed on top of it. He continues to improve every week out there.”
With the score 7-7, Princeton tried a pooch kick to open the second half, popping the ball over the head of the first row of Wildcats. Ethan Hickcox caught the ball on the first bounce at the 31 and returned it to the Wildcat 44, giving the Wildcats great field position. On second and nine from the 45, fullback Drake Gadbois went 10 tough yards up the middle for a first down. Three plays later, Gadbois again ran 10 yards up the middle for a Wildcat first down at the 26.
Running back Joe Virga took a handoff and ran to the right side for 12 yards. Kimlinger then rushed off tackle to the left for nine yards. On second and one from the five, Kimlinger took the snap and faked a handoff to Gadbois. He slid two steps to his right, darted into a hole and into the end zone untouched. Bryce Thompson added the extra point and the Wildcats led 14-7.
The Tigers returned the game’s opening kickoff to the Wildcat 48. After allowing one first down, the Wildcat defense stiffened at the Wildcat 41 and the Tigers were forced to punt. After a touchback, the Wildcats started at their own 20. Will Gillach improved the Wildcats’ field position immediately with a 32 yard run on the first play. A few plays later, Kimlinger hit Gillach for a 13 yard gain. The Wildcats continued to move the ball down the field. On the ninth play of the drive, the Wildcats faced fourth and two at the Tiger 12. Kimlinger handed the ball off to Gadbois, but Gadbois was stopped just short of a first down and Princeton took over on downs.
Princeton went on a long drive of their own, running the ball down the field with only one pass play mixed in. On the eleventh play of the drive, they had the ball first and 10 at the Wildcat 36. After the handoff, Virga knocked the ball loose from the runner and recovered it to give the Wildcats the ball on their own 32. On second down from the 35, Kimlinger dropped back. Two Tigers burst through the line. Kimlinger avoided the sack and scrambled around left end for a 13 yard gain and a first down. But the Wildcat drive stalled three plays later and they were forced to punt. The ensuing Tiger drive stalled at their own 42. A line drive punt went over the heads of the Wildcat return men, got a great Tiger bounce and rolled dead at the Wildcat two yard line.
The Wildcats embarked on their most impressive drive of the season, going 98 yard in ten plays. On second and seven from the five, Kimlinger took the snap, went two steps to his left and hit the hole for a 12 yard gain. On third and one from the 24, Gadbois took a handoff up the middle, cut to the left and ran to daylight for a 23 yard gain. On the next play, Gadbois went up the middle, broke a tackle and went for 13 yards. On second and one form the 31, Kimlinger pitched left to Virga who turned the corner, broke a tackle at the 21 and was knocked out-of-bounds at the 12. One second and 10, Kimlinger dropped back and hit a wide open Gillach to the left at the five yard line. Two tacklers converged immediately, but Gillach carried them, and the ball, diving into the end zone for a touchdown. After Thompson’s extra point the Wildcats led 7-0 with 3:12 left in the half.
The Tigers returned the ensuing kickoff to their own 42 yard line. Four plays later, they faced second and six at the Wildcat 43. Tiger quarterback Sam Archer dropped back to pass and was flushed left. It looked like he was going to run the ball, but he lofted a high pass towards the end zone. The Wildcat defensive backs had started to move up to play the run and had to scramble back. But the ball beat them to receiver Tyler McAlpine, who caught the ball at the four and was knocked into the end zone. The Tigers had tied it 7-7 with just 1:14 left in the first half.
After the Wildcats scored to open the second half, the defense held Princeton to a three and out on the ensuing drive. The Wildcats started from their own 39 after the punt. On the fourth pay of the drive, they faced second and six form the Princeton 41. After faking a handoff to Gadbois, Kimlinger burst up the middle and outran the Princeton defense all the way to the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-4 lead with 4:48 left in the third quarter. Princeton then went on a long drive, going 64 yards in 11 plays. On the first play of the fourth quarter, facing fourth and three from the six, Archer dropped back, rolled left and hit a wide open Nick Zeroth just across the goal line for a touchdown to cut the Wildcat lead to 21-14.
The Tigers surprised the Wildcats with an onside kick and recovered it at their own 46. But the tough Wildcat defense stopped them three and out to force another punt. Both defenses continued to play well and three punts later, the Tigers started a drive at the Wildcat 41 with 3:58 left in the game. The Tigers managed on first down and ended up fourth and 6 at the Wildcat 21 with 1:49 left. Then came the wildest play of the game. The Tigers ran a version of the flea flicker, with McAlpine rolling left after the second handoff. He fired the ball to wide open receiver Tanner Palmborg at the 14, but Palmborg dropped the ball. The Wildcats took over on downs and ran out the clock for a satisfying 21-14 win.
“The first possession after halftime is always a critical one,” said Weiss. “And it was a tone setter for us in this game. We took advantage of the opportunity and it put us in a good position for the rest of the game. Princeton is a power running team and in the first half we were able to get them out of that. Even though they tied it up before halftime, we needed to keep doing what we were doing because they weren’t going to win the game on 40 yard pass plays.”
Weiss talked about some of the unsung heroes from the game. He said “Some players are easier to notice, like Kimlinger and Gillach and Virga. They played well in a big game and their play kind of speaks for itself. But we rushed for over 300 yards and held them to under 150 and they are a very good running team. That speaks a lot to the play of our line on both sides of the ball. Alex Axtell had two sacks and Dylan Wood had three of them. Jake Klein played very well on both sides of the ball. Luke Koskie played a whale of a game. Logan Hedrick played well on the defensive line.
“And I have to mention Dan Streitz, Tanner Rivard, Jax Ebbenga and Aron Johnson. This was like one of those classic Rum River Conference games from 15 years ago. We won the game up front on the offensive and defensive lines. A lot of our guys play both ways and not a lot of Princeton players do. Yet our guys played with high energy and didn’t show signs of fatigue late in the game.”
The Wildcats (4-0) will face an even tougher test this week, taking on St. Michael-Albertville (4-0) at home at Chisago Lakes High School Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.
The Knights are ranked third in the state in Class AAAAA, while the Wildcats are ranked eleventh. And like the Wildcats, the Knights have blown out three of their opponents, with their only close game a 35-27 win over St. Francis two weeks ago.
“St. Michael is a multidimensional team,” said Weiss. “They run a lot of different formations and do all of them well. They go from the power run on one play to the shotgun spread on the next. We will have to defend everything proficiently. We had a good back and forth game with them last year. Turnovers and special teams were the determining factors, especially when they popped the opening kickoff over the heads of our front line and recovered it.
“This year, we need to win the turnover battle, have solid special teams and play well overall to put ourselves in position to win.”