October 4, 2018 at 2:39 p.m.
The game was loaded with turnovers, missed opportunities on offense and good defense by both teams. The Wildcats took an early 9-0 lead and it looked for the longest time like they were going come away with a win by that same score. But the Royals finally broke through late in the game to send the Wildcats to a heartbreaking defeat.
Late in the first quarter, the Wildcats drove deep into Rogers territory and looked like they would take the lead. But they fumbled at the 20-yard line and the Royals recovered. The Wildcat defense stepped up and forced the Royals into a three-and-out. After a punt and a block in the back penalty, the Wildcats started the ensuing drive at their own 28-yard line. On first down, quarterback David Kimlinger pitched right to running back Tim Gregory. Gregory stopped and fired a pass about 30 yards downfield. But the intended receiver had stopped for some reason and Gregory’s well-thrown balled sailed over his head, incomplete. The Wildcats went three and out and were forced to punt. But the Wildcat defense force the Royals into a three and out and the Wildcats took over at their own 33. On third and nine, Gregory took a pitch right, Going around right end, he broke one tackle took off for a 32-yard gain down to the Rogers 34. On second and ten, Manny Rosario took a handoff, burst through a hole up the middle and raced untouched all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. The snap on the extra point appeared to be a little off, screwing up the timing, and the Wildcats missed the extra point. They led 6-0 with 6:27 left in the second quarter.
The Wildcat defense again came up big, forcing the Royals to punt from their own 21. After a short punt, the Wildcats took over at the Rogers 48. Key plays included a 17-yard run by Gregory to give the Wildcats a first down at the Royal 19 and an eight-yard run up the middle by Rosario to give the Wildcats first and goal on the five with 1:12 left in the half. But the Rogers defense stiffened, and the Wildcats trotted out the field goal team with 19 seconds left in the half. Reece Lawlor sent the kick just inside the left upright for three points to give the Wildcats a 9-0 lead going into halftime.
After a Lawlor touchback to open the second half, the Royals started from their own 20. They went on a 17-play drive that ate up over six minutes off the clock. The Wildcat defense stiffened at the Wildcat five and the Royals were forced to try a field goal. But a bad snap went off the holders’ fingertips and the Wildcats recovered at the 15. The score remained 9-0.
The Wildcats went three and out and, after a punt and a decent return, the Royals took over on the Wildcat 45. But on second and nine, the Wildcats forced a fumble and recovered it. They managed a couple of first downs, but the drive stalled at the Rogers 31 and the Royals took over. Five plays later, the Royals faced third and seven from their own 46. Royals quarterback Easton Miller lofted a pass deep down the left sideline. Defensive back Ryan Sandvik times it perfectly, stepped in front of the receiver and picked it off in stride. He returned the ball 35 yards to the Royals 41, and the Wildcats were in business with 10:45 left in the game. On the next play, Kimlinger threw his only pass completion of the game, to Gregory at the 19. The drive stalled there, and Lawlor came out to try a 37-yard field goal. But the ball sailed wide left and the score stayed 9-0 with 8:19 left in the game.
Rogers started to move the ball down the field, but two dropped passes left them facing a fourth and three from the Wildcat 48. With just 5:37 left in the game and trailing by two scores, they went for it. The pass attempt sailed high and incomplete and the Wildcats took over. After a three and out and a punt, the Royals took over at their own 14 with 3:30 left in the game. They passed their way to first down at the Wildcat 41. Miller lofted a pass toward the right front corner of the end zone. Receiver Luke Nelson caught it over a Wildcat defensive back and fell at the one-yard line. Hunter Stull took it up the middle for a touchdown on the next play. After the extra point, the Royals still trailed 9-7 with 2:22 left in the game. And then came the onside kick that led to a Wildcat loss.
The Wildcats (2-3) are essentially three plays away from being 5-0 this season. They beat the number four team in the state, Andover, and came within less than a minute of beating second-ranked Elk River.
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “We kind of realize we are a good football team, but we have an opportunity to be better than good We have shown we can compete with anyone on any night. It’s always our goal to be competitive. We need to take it up one more step to go from good to great. With these losses, we learn something every week. And that will pay dividends for us in the future. If we were undefeated, would we be learning these same lessons? We are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and we know we can play with anybody. We are still optimistic about our opportunities.”
Rosario was the workhorse for the Wildcats, carrying the ball 19 times for 87 yards. Gregory carried the ball just five times for 57 yards but had some key gains. Weiss said “In addition to what he has been doing on offense, Tim Gregory has been key on special teams. He is really doing a nice job on punt returns. He caught two or three very high punts in traffic which helped us to maintain field position. Some punt returners will let those bounce and the ball keeps going ten or 20 yards down the field. And Ryan Sandvik came up big for us with the interception. He’s got a couple of those this year. He’s a good athlete and a smart football player who is good at judging a ball in space. Some players have a natural knack to ‘high point’ a ball that’s in the air and Ryan is one of those players.”
Weiss continued “We had our chances to win this game. We need to find a way to keep making plays in all three phases of the game. We made a lot of them on Friday night, but we needed to make at least one more. We just need to create our own breaks and we didn’t do that.”
It’s Homecoming for the Wildcats tomorrow night. They will take on the St. Francis Fighting Saints a 7 p.m. at Chisago Lakes High School. Weiss said “St. Francis is like us in a lot of ways and we have identical records. We always have very good games with them. We need to play the full 48 minutes. It should be fun. And after a couple of weeks on the road, it will be nice to get back home and play a game.”