November 10, 2023 at 12:12 p.m.

Special teams haunt CL in section finals loss to Pioneers

An opening kick return for touchdown and blocked field goal score were the difference in the 42-36 game


By CHUCK FITZER | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Sports

Hill-Murray 42, Chisago Lakes 36

In the Section 3AAAA championship game, two first half special teams touchdowns by the Hill-Murray Pioneers put the Wildcats in a 14-point halftime deficit and, despite some offensive brilliance, they were not quite able to make up the gap, losing to the Pioneers 42-36.  The loss ended the season for the Wildcats and Hill-Murray will head to the state tournament.  The game was played at Hill-Murray High School last Friday, November 3.

On the game’s opening kickoff, Pioneer return man Simon Seidl picked up a bouncing ball at the near sideline at the seven, dodged a couple of tacklers right away, and was off to the races.  Kicker Owen Morley tried to cut him off at midfield, but missed as Seidl blew past him and ran untouched all the way to the end zone for a touchdown to give the Pioneers an early 7-0 lead,  The Wildcats answered quickly.  Starting at their own 20, they moved the ball to the Pioneer 45, highlighted by a 20-yard run by quarterback Gavin Lewis.  On first down at the Hill-Murray 45, Carson Langevin took a handoff up the middle, found a seam and ran all the way to the end zone for a touchdown.  The extra point was no good, as the Wildcats trailed 7-6.  The Pioneers responded with a 70-yard, 15-play drive that took up most of the rest or the first quarter.  Alex Gross ran it in from the four-yard line and, after the extra point, the Pioneers led 14-6.

The Wildcats, starting at their own 35, moved the ball well on their next drive.  On fourth and eight from the Pioneer 32, Evan LaValle took a handoff and plowed through the left side of the line, but was stopped inches short of first down, and Hill-Murray took over at their own 24.  In four plays, the Pioneers moved the ball to the Wildcat 46.  Gross took a handoff, ran through a huge hole on the right side of the line, deked some Wildcat defenders at the 30 and ran untouched to the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-6 Pioneer lead.  Jacob Showers fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own five and ran straight down the middle of the field.  He burst through a seam up the middle and cut to the right as he hit the Wildcat 40. He was tackled from behind at the Pioneer 41, giving the Wildcats great field position.  LaValle got the bulk of the work as the Wildcats moved the ball inside the ten.  On third and goal from the two, LaValle plowed into the end zone for a touchdown.  On the two-point conversion attempt, LaValle took a hand off to the right and dove over the goal line for two points, and the Wildcats trailed 21-14.

The Pioneers had another nice kickoff return as the half wound down, returning the ball to their own 48.  Two passes got them down to the Wildcat 25.  But after three straight incompletions, Hill-Murray faced fourth and ten. Quarterback Jackson Reeves dropped back to pass, couldn’t see anyone open and took off.  The Wildcats converged on him at the 20 and hauled him down, taking the ball over on downs.  Two nice completions to LaValle and runs by Lewis, Langevin and Jadon Greene moved the ball down to the Pioneer 33.  The Wildcats trotted out Owen Morley for a 50-yard field goal attempt.  Hill-Murray broke through the line and blocked the attempt.  Decario Brown scooped it up and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, and Hill-Murray led 28-14 at the half.

The Wildcats didn’t take long to cut into the Pioneer lead in the third quarter.  Langevin returned the kickoff to the Wildcat 45.  On the first play of the drive, Lewis kept the ball, ran through a nice hole up the middle, bounced off a couple of would-be tacklers and broke free.  It looked like he would score, but he was caught from behind and pulled down at the half-yard line.  He snuck it into the end zone on the next play.  After a Pioneer penalty, the Wildcats decided to go for two.  LaValle waltzed into the end zone and the Wildcats trailed 28-22.  But Hill-Murray responded on the ensuing drive.  Starting from their own 33, they used ten plays to get the ball down to the Wildcat 24, including a fourth down conversion to keep the drive alive. On first down from the 24, Reeves dropped back and threw a nice ball over a Wildcat defender to Gavin Berg in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown, and the Pioneers led 35-22.

The Wildcats managed one first down on their next drive but ended up facing fourth and 12 from their own 38 and were forced to punt.  It was their only punt of the game.  LaValle’s punt was downed at the Hill-Murray 35.  A 40-yard run on the third play of the drive moved the ball deep into Wildcat territory.  A few plays later, from the 11-yard line, Reeves took the snap, rolled right, and saw a wide-open lane in front of him.  He ran untouched into the end zone and the Pioneers led 42-22 early in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats weren’t done.  On their next drive, on second and five from their own 34, LaValle took a handoff up the middle and broke loose.  He headed up the field and was finally hauled down at the Pioneer 29, after a gain of 36 yards. 

On second and five, LaValle went up the middle for another 12 yards.  Two plays later, from the four, Lewis faked a handoff up the middle to LaValle.  As the Pioneer defense converged on LaValle, Lewis strolled into the end zone.  LaValle was stopped short of the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt, and the Wildcats now trailed 42-28.

The Wildcats tried an onside kick, but the Pioneers recovered it cleanly at their own 44.  The Pioneers got one first down, but the Wildcat defense stepped up and forced them to punt from the Wildcats 46.  After a short punt and a short return, the Wildcats took over at their own 18.  With time running down, the Wildcats began to move the ball upfield.  On second down at their own 47, a pitch to the right to LaValle gained 20 yards.  After an incomplete pass, Lewis pitched left to LaValle.  He weaved his way to the left sideline.  It looked like he might have to step out of bounds at around the 15, but some nice downfield blocking kept a lane open for him and he scored a touchdown.  LaValle also converted the two-pointer, and the Wildcats trailed 42-36.  With less than two minutes to go in the game, the Wildcats had to try another onside kick.  The Pioneers recovered and were able to use three kneel-downs to end the game.  The Pioneers were on their way to the state tournament.

“We were not playing complementary football on Friday,” said Wildcat head coach Ryan Anderson.  “Those two special teams touchdowns set us back and we couldn’t recover.  Neither offense could really be stopped in this game.  We needed at least one more stop on defense.  Forcing them to punt just one time is not a good situation to be in.  The boys battled to make it close, and we did get one stop near the end.”

The Wildcats piled up 456 yards of total offense in the game, with four players rushing for more than 60 yards.  Anderson said “Gavin had his best game rushing-wise.  He had some really nice runs and ended up with 102 yards.  Evan was a beast, piling up 198 yards and catching some key passes for us.  Carson had 75 yards, and Jadon rushed for 61 yards.  Our offense was really able to move the ball but, unfortunately, theirs was, too.”


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