September 24, 2021 at 10:49 a.m.
When the Wildcats fell behind to the second-ranked Becker Bulldogs 14-0 in the first quarter of last Friday’s game in front of the home crowd, the possibility of a blowout loss reared its ugly head. But the Wildcats got back in the game, scoring twice in the third quarter to tie it 14-14. The Bulldogs responded with a touchdown late in the third quarter and held off the Wildcats for a 21-14 win.
Becker scored on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bengston to Alex Weiss on the game’s opening drive to go up 7-0. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats managed one first down. But a tackle for loss and a penalty led to them facing fourth and 13 from their own 41, and they lined up to punt. The snap sailed high over punter Luke Thompson’s head. Thompson raced back and picked the ball up at the 15 and started upfield, but was tackled at the 20. Becker took over on downs and, five plays later, Carter Callahan went over from the three to make it 14-0.
The Wildcats were forced to punt on their next drive, and the Bulldogs returned it to their own 48. Two plays later, they tried some razzle-dazzle. Quarterback Bengston pitched right to Eric Seavert, and Seavert stopped and threw the ball downfield. Wildcat defensive back Blake Schmidt picked it off at the 20 and returned it to the 34. The Wildcats went on a 13-play drive that ate up most of the rest of the second quarter. On third and 19 from the 29, quarterback Nick Wasko threw a pass that was intercepted at the five and returned to the 33. The half ended three plays later with the score still 14-0.
The Wildcats began the second half with the ball on their own 39-yard line. On first down, Wasko threw a long pass down the middle that was hauled in by Josh Byrne at the Becker 37-yard line. Three running plays moved the ball down to the seven, first and goal. The Wildcats lost eight yards on the next three plays and faced fourth and goal at the 15. Wasko took the snap and rolled wide to the right. He saw a lane, cut back to the middle and raced into the end zone for a touchdown. Bryce Morley added the extra point, cutting the Becker lead to 14-7.
Becker fumbled the ball on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Nick Helland recovered for the Wildcats at the Bulldog 33. Three play later, the Wildcats faced fourth and eight at the 31. Wasko kept the ball and headed around right end. Good blocking enabled Wasko to gain 12 yards before he stepped out of bounds at the 19. A late hit on Wasko after he went out of bounds resulted in a personal foul penalty that moved the ball down to the nine. On second down from the eight, Wasko kept the ball, and ran through a huge hole, untouched, into the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was good, tying the game at 14-14. So, after Becker began the game by scoring on their opening drive and turning a subsequent turnover into seven points, the Wildcats did the same thing to open the second half.
But this time, the opponents responded quickly. Starting on their own 30, the Bulldogs moved to the Wildcat 43 in five plays. On second and four from the 43, Bengston lofted a pass to Landen Goebel at the five-yard line, and Goebel ran into the end zone to put the Bulldogs up 21-14, after the extra point. On the ensuing drive, it looked like the Wildcats would answer with a score of their own. Starting at their own 30 on the last play of the third quarter, the Wildcats moved quickly downfield, highlighted by a 20-yard Wasko run that gave the Wildcats a first down at the Becker 25. After a penalty and a couple of runs, the Wildcats faced fourth and 12 at the 27. Wasko completed a pass to Byrne that came up a yard short of a first down. The Bulldogs followed with an eleven-play drive that ate up much of the rest of the quarter. They were forced to punt from the Wildcat 48. A touchback gave the Wildcats the ball at their own 20 with less than three minutes remaining.
On first down, Max Olson took a pitch left and picked up twenty yards. But the drive crashed after that, with fumbles on three of the next four plays. A pitch right bounced on the ground, and the Wildcats fell on it for a two-yard loss. They gained seven yards on the next play. A fumble on third down resulted in a loss of four. On fourth and five, the Wildcats fumbled again. They recovered it, for a loss of two yards, turning the ball over on downs. The Bulldogs ran out the clock to end the game.
“You don’t get any points for getting close,” said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. “But I think we definitely grew from this game. Down 14-0 in the first half, we could have easily folded against a team that is the real deal on offense, defense, and special teams. But our guys came back, were persistent, created some opportunities and took advantage of others. We started to move the ball and build some confidence, kept the ball out of their hands for the much of the rest of the first half and tied up the game in the third quarter. It’s a long season, and we can take some positives from this game that we can build on.”
Weiss talked about a couple of defensive players who made a big difference for the Wildcats. He said “Linebackers Cole Smith and Conner Wheeler really played well, filling their gaps when needed. Conner made a big play in the second half when he caused the fumble that Nick Helland recovered, and later on had a sack.”
The Wildcats (1-2) continue their tough schedule when they host the fifth-ranked Rocori Spartans (3-1) at Chisago Lakes High School tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Weiss said “We have never played them and don’t know much about them. They have done very well the last few years, winning the state title in 2019. They are well-coached. We will prepare for another tough battle.”