October 6, 2023 at 11:10 a.m.
Zimmerman stuns Chisago Lakes at homecoming before storm ends game early
Everything seemed set up for a successful homecoming game for the Wildcat football team at home last Friday night. The undefeated Wildcats (4-0) were facing the struggling Zimmerman Thunder (0-4) and would have the support of a crowd of well over 1,000 people.
But things went awry from the start. The Wildcats fumbled at the Zimmerman 33 on their first drive, and Zimmerman quarterback Thomas McEachern scored on a 67-yard run on the Thunder’s first play of the game. A fumble on the Wildcats’ next drive that also led to a touchdown, and a score by the Thunder just before halftime and three long touchdowns by the Zimmerman offense added up to a 39-14 loss for the Wildcats. The game was halted due to lightning with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter and, after a two-and-a-half wait, the game was called.
After McEachern scored to put Zimmerman up 6-0, the Wildcats started the next drive from their own 25. But the turnover bug bit them again, and they fumbled on third down. Zimmerman recovered and, five plays later, running back Mason Spence went over from the two, and the Thunder led 13-0 with 2:44 left in the first quarter. On the ensuing Wildcat drive, the Wildcats faced third and 17 from their own 17 yard line. Wildcat quarterback Gavin Lewis hit Braxton Bender-Ehlke with a short pass over the middle. Bender-Ehlke turned and ran up field, getting knocked out of bounds after a 21-yard gain and a first down. A few plays later, the Wildcats faced third and ten from midfield. On a short pass attempt over the middle by Lewis, the Wildcat receiver was hit before the ball got there. No penalty was called, and the ball went off his hands and into the arms of a Zimmerman defender, who hung on to the ball for an interception, giving his team a first down at the Thunder 41 yard line. The Thunder moved the ball downfield quickly again, but the drive stalled because of a holding penalty and two tackles-for-loss by Cole Stilp, and the Wildcats took over at their own 31-yard line. Similarly, the Wildcats moved the ball into opposing territory, but they failed to convert on fourth down and Zimmerman took over at their own 28.
The Thunder nearly had another one play drive, with running back Mason Spence going around left end and barely stepping out of bounds after a 25-yard gain. The Wildcats caught a break when a holding penalty was called on the Thunder, wiping out that gain and making it first and 20. But runs of 12 and 11 yards gave the Thunder a first down at their own 41 with 90 seconds left in the first half. Zimmerman continued to move the ball and used all of its time outs, stopping the clock with a spike on first down with 20 seconds left in the half at the Wildcat 35. McEachern dropped back and fired a high, deep pass to a wide open Spence in the front left corner of the end zone for a touchdown, extending the Thunder lead to 20-0 going into halftime.
The Thunder put even more distance between themselves and the Wildcats on the opening drive of the second half. After getting one first down on their own 35, Spence took a pitch to the left. Evan LaValle was clearly held as he moved to make the tackle, but no penalty was called. Spence sped around the corner and all the way down the left sideline for a touchdown, putting the Thunder up 26-0 with just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
Fullback LaValle led the way on the Wildcats’ ensuing drive. A 23-yard pass completion from Lewis to a leaping Brayden Anderson gave the Wildcats a first down at the Thunder 27. Five plays later, LaValle scored from ten yards out, cutting the Zimmerman lead to 26-7 with 6:10 left in the third quarter. But it only took Zimmerman 16 seconds to respond. On the first play of their drive, from their own 22, McEachern dropped back to pass and fired it about 20 yards over the middle. A Wildcat defensive back leaped high to try to knock the ball away, but the ball sailed over his hands and into the arms of Noah Schmit, who caught the pass in stride and ran untouched all the way to the end zone to make it 33-7.
Jacob Showers gave the crowd something to cheer about on the following kickoff return. He broke through the wedge at the Wildcat 25-yard line and headed free down the left sideline.
He was caught from behind at the Zimmerman 14-yard line. On second and four from the eight yard line, Bender-Ehlke ran through a nice hole on the right side of the line and into the end zone to cut the Thunder lead to 33-14 with 5:06 left in the third quarter. But the Thunder went on a long, ten-play drive, eating up clock. McEachern plowed into the end zone from the one, Zimmerman led 39-14 with 9:27 left in the game.
Shortly thereafter, lightning was spotted. At that point, due to safety reasons, the Minnesota State High School League requires that any outside event be suspended, and the game cannot be resumed until there has been no lightning for at least a half hour, for the safety of teams and fans. The stands were cleared, the players headed to the locker rooms, and most fans headed home. Lightning continued intermittently for an hour or so. After about 90 minutes, the teams came back out of the locker rooms and started to line up to shake hands. But the coaches continued their discussion. “We wanted to finish the game on Saturday,” said Anderson, “but the Zimmerman coach claimed they couldn’t get a bus on Saturday. They wanted to finish the game on Monday, but to me that would cause an issue with player safety and put us at a competitive disadvantage going forward, being too close to this Friday’s game.” More lightning came, and the teams went back to the lockers rooms. Finally, at about 11:20 p.m., the coaches decided to call the game. Anderson said “It’s frustrating because we didn’t get a chance to finish what we started. And the Minnesota State High School League doesn’t have specific rules to follow when trying to reschedule part of a game like this, so it’s left up to the coaches to agree on something. Ultimately, we didn’t get a chance to finish what we started”
Anderson addressed the Wildcats’ struggles in their first loss of the season. He said “We turned the ball over on the first three possessions and spotted them 13 points right away. We had the ball just before halftime and weren’t able to convert, and they went down and scored with a few seconds left in the half and got the ball back to open the second half and scored again. If we could take one of those early turnovers off the board, it’s probably a much closer game. But everything that could go wrong did go wrong in this one. We didn’t play our best game on offense, and struggled on defense.”
LaValle quietly had another good game rushing for the Wildcats, carrying the ball 17 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. For the Thunder, it was all McEachern. He rushed 13 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and completed two of three passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns, giving him an absurd passer rating of 149.3 for the game.
The fireworks scheduled for after the game were cancelled. The scuttlebutt is that the fireworks will be saved until next year’s homecoming game and added to the fireworks purchased for that game to make an even more spectacular display.
The Wildcats (4-1) will head to Princeton to play the Princeton Tigers (5-0) tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Tigers beat Zimmerman 48-0 two weeks ago, so they will definitely provide a tough challenge for the Wildcats. Anderson said “Princeton is a good team. They like to run the ball their and their defense can move around and do some nice things. If we can get some stops on defense, I am confident we can move the ball and make it a really good game. This is our final subdistrict silver opponent of the season. Despite the loss to Zimmerman, one game does not define a season. The boys are looking forward to getting back on the field and taking on Princeton.”