September 21, 2018 at 11:18 a.m.
Early on, it looked like the Huskies were on their way to a blowout. After kicker Reece Lawlor boomed the opening kick into the end zone for a touchback, Andover went to work. They went on an eight-play drive – without facing any third downs – that took just three minutes. Running back Ben Steckman went over from three yards out. The Wildcats stopped the two-point conversion attempt by Steckman and the Huskies led 6-0. The ensuing kickoff was an onside kick, bobbled by the Wildcats and recovered by Andover at midfield. Nine plays and three and a half minutes later, on third and goal from the seven, quarterback Ethan Kalmes threw to wide receiver Aghogho Eyafe at the three and Eyafe plowed into the end zone for a touchdown and a 12-0 lead. The Wildcats moved the ball well on their next drive. But on third and 13 from the Andover 41, Kimlinger threw a pass that was intercepted near the right sideline at the 34-yard line. This time, Andover went on a 10-play drive. On third and goal from the seven, Kalmes ran right, made a couple of nice moves, cut upfield and crossed the goal line to put the Huskies up 18-0 with ten and a half minutes left in the second quarter.
The Wildcat comeback started immediately. After a squib kick and a penalty on the Wildcats, they started at their own 30. On second and 11, Kimlinger kept the ball, ran left, cut inside a would-be tackler and took off down the left side. He outran the entire Andover defense for a 71-yard touchdown run. Reece Lawlor kicked the extra point, and the Wildcats trailed 18-7.
And then the Wildcat defense started to step up. They force the Huskies into a three and out and, after a nice punt, the Wildcats took over at their own 22. On third and 17 from the 15, Kimlinger launched a long pass down the left side. The intended receiver never turned around to see the ball coming, so the Huskies easily picked it off and returned it to the Wildcat 29. But the defense held firm. On fourth and 12 from the 31, the Wildcats forced an incompletion and took over. Three plays later, they fumbled at their own 45-yard line. Andover started to move the ball, but they fumbled it right back to the Wildcats, who took over on their own 17. The Wildcats went on a 12 play, 57-yard drive that ate up most of the last four minutes of the half. Lawlor attempted a field goal, but it sailed wide and the Wildcats went into halftime still trailing 18-7.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Wildcats fumbled and the Huskies recovered on their own 24-yard line. Six plays later, Andover went for it on fourth and two from their own 45. The Wildcats stuffed them for no gain and took over. After an incomplete pass, Kimlinger took the snap and ran right. In what looked like a mirror image of his first touchdown run, he cut upfield and ran down the right sideline. He cut inside at the 25 and raced to the end zone for his second touchdown of the night. After the extra point, the Wildcats trailed 18-14 midway through the third quarter.
The Wildcats defense once again stopped the Huskies on a fourth down try and the Wildcats took over at their own 31. The drive stalled at the Wildcat 40 at the end of the first quarter. Punter Will Tinjum kicked a line drive that bounced at the Husky 32 and kept rolling until it died at the six-yard line. On third and eight, Kalmes rolled right and threw a pass toward a receiver about 20 yards down field. But Wildcat Hunter Kral leapt at the 16 and snatched it. He returned it to the seven-yard line. On second and goal from the seven, Kimlinger kept the ball, ran a couple of steps left, cut upfield and dove over a would-be tackler into the end zone for a touchdown. With ten minutes left in the game, the Wildcats led 21-18. But there was much more to come.
After yet another touchback by Lawlor, Andover took over at their own 20.
A long pass play gave them a first down at the Wildcat 37. But on fourth and seven from the 34, the Wildcats knocked away a pass attempt. It was the sixth time in a row the Wildcats had stopped a fourth down attempt or caused a turnover. The Wildcats quickly moved the ball down the field, but the drive stalled at the Andover 24. Lawlor jogged onto the field for a 41-yard field goal attempt.
The snap and hold were perfect and Lawlor nailed it. The ball sailed right down the center and would have been good from ten yards farther out. The Wildcats now led 24-18 with 4:48 left in the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the Huskies to tie things up. On the first play after the kickoff, starting from the Andover 34-yard line, Kalmes kept the ball, ran right, broke two tackles and, after a nice cutback, ran all the way to the end zone to tie the game at 24-24, just 23 seconds after the Wildcats scored. But for the fourth time, the Wildcat stopped the Huskies’ two-point attempt.
After the ensuing squib kickoff, the Wildcats took over at their own 35. They ran the ball up the middle all the way down the field, eating up clock as they went. On the twelfth play of the drive, facing second and goal from the four, Kimlinger took the snap, escaped a tackle in the backfield and ran to the right through a big hole into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 31-24 lead with 19 seconds left in the game. Another touchback by Lawlor prevented the Huskies from even thinking about a long kickoff return. Three plays later, the Wildcats knocked down a long passing attempt to seal one of the biggest comebacks on Wildcat history.
Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said “Andover has been the top dog in our section and one of the top teams in our district. A lot of things went well for us. We caught some breaks and took advantage of some opportunities. For us to be able to go toe-to-toe with them and come out on top is a good night for us.
“I’ll admit it didn’t look good when we were down 18-0 and we hadn’t done anything yet. Our defense had allowed three straight scores and our offense was just spinning their wheels. We didn’t say anything special to the team. We just said we were facing a good team and we need to trust the process and let things play out. We have a resilient group of guys. It was still early enough in the game and we came back and responded. We scored a touchdown and just missed a field goal and knew that we were still in the game.”
The Wildcats needed each phase of the game to click in order to pull off this win, and Wiess talked about each phase. He said “Defensively, we stopped them four times on fourth down and they were in scoring position three of those times. Those were huge plays. A couple of them were after our turnovers. The defense really went out and responded. Connor Bleymeyer, Reese Hallstrom, Will Tinjum and Owen Faste did a nice job up front. At linebacker, Owen Dresel had a big night and he, Beau Stiller and Mason Molde did a nice job reading things. On the outside, at cornerback, Nick Stone and Ryan Sanvik broke up some key passes. By and large, they were able to get into position and limit the number of big pass plays they had. Hunter Kral saw his first varsity action tonight, other than special teams. He was the ‘next guy up’ from our sophomore ranks and made a big interception for us.
“David scored the long touchdowns on option read plays. He made good reads, found a seam and from there, he had to be an athlete. He made a couple of nice moves. He is obviously a very elusive guy. He showed a knack for finding the end zone against a very good team. Andover returned eight starters on defense from last year. They are one of the better defenses we have faced or will face this season.
“The kicking game was big. Will Tinjum’s punt that rolled dead on the six pinned them deep, and eventually led to an interception and score for us. Reece felt bad after he missed the field goal in the second quarter. I’m glad he got an opportunity to kick another one in the fourth quarter. And all of his touchbacks on kickoffs really shut down their return game. The fact that they don’t have a kicker is a difference maker. They have a two-point short yardage package. We stopped all four of their attempts. That’s eight points they attempted to get that they didn’t get. Give our guys credit. They had the composure to come out and play hard defensively on the points after, especially after the second and third touchdowns. It made a big difference.”
The Wildcats have clearly shown improvement over last season. Weiss said “Last year we weren’t even in position to be overly competitive with Andover. For our guys to go out and compete for four quarters and come out on top is a good leap for our program. It something for our guys to hang their hat on and say ‘hey, we can do this.’”
The Wildcats (2-1) will take on the Elk River Elks (3-0) tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Elk River High School. Elk River is ranked second in Class 5A. For those of you who may not have heard, Elk River beat Buffalo 80-70 last Friday. The 150 combined points is thought to be the most ever scored in a Minnesota high school game. “Elk River plays a totally different style of offense than Andover,” said Weiss. “Andover tries to spread you out defensively. Elk River is going to be in a tight formation. They’ll pack everybody in there and come right at you. From a preparation standpoint, what we did this week will be quite a bit different than what we did the week before.” .