October 13, 2023 at 12:58 p.m.

‘Cats play much better, but lose close game to unbeaten Princeton



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

The Wildcats actually outplayed the Princeton Tigers last Friday night and, despite three long touchdowns allowed by the defense, were in a position to win the game.  But offensive woes – one lost fumble, two fumbles that were recovered but stopped drives, and two dropped passes that would likely have gone for touchdowns – let Princeton escape with a 28-25 win.  The game was played at Princeton High School.

The Tigers took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in eleven plays plays, including a fourth down conversion deep in Wildcat territory. Eli Gibbs finished the drive with a ten-yard touchdown run through a nice hole on the left side.  After the extra point, the Tigers led 7-0 with 6:50 left in the first quarter.  On the Wildcats’ first drive, a pitch hit the ground on just their second play from scrimmage, and they ended up going three and out after an incomplete pass and were forced to punt from their own 42.  Evan LaValle’s punt took a great Wildcat bounce, and they downed it at the Princeton nine-yard line.  The Tigers went right back to work on offense.  They took eight plays to move the ball up to their own 45-yard line.  Jonathan Kaiser took a handoff around left end and got loose, heading down the left sideline.  Joseph Froberg caught up to him from behind at the 25, but Kaiser stiff-armed him to the ground and ran untouched the rest of the way to the end zone to give Princeton a 14-0 lead.

The Wildcats started with good field position for the second drive in a row after Xavier Taylor returned the kickoff to the Wildcat 44.  The Wildcats took just six plays to score.  Four runs by LaValle and a 12-yard pass from quarterback Gavin Lewis to Jadon Greene moved the ball down to the 26.  On his first carry of the game, Carson Langevin – who missed the Zimmerman game with an injury – took the handoff, ran through a hole on the left side of the line and raced untouched to the end zone for a touchdown.  Brycen Morley kicked the extra point, and the Wildcats trailed 14-7.  The Wildcats forced the Tigers into a quick three and out on their next drive and took over at their own 29 after a short punt.     On third and nine, the Wildcats dialed up a slant pass that would have gone all the way for a score, but the ball went right through the hands of receiver Blake Siefert, forcing the Wildcats to punt.  Starting from the Princeton 38, Tiger quarterback Brady Kok kept the ball and ran 26 yards to give Princeton a first down at the Wildcat 36.  But the drive stalled there and, after an incomplete pass on fourth down, the Wildcats took over at their own 34-yard line.  On first down, Langevin took a pitch left, stopped, and threw a perfect ball about 25 yards downfield in stride to a wide-open Brayden Anderson.  But Anderson got turned around a bit and dropped the pass, negating another potential touchdown.  On the next play, a pitch to the right bounced off LaValle’s hands and the Tigers recovered at the Wildcat 31-yard line.  On the first play, Kaiser took a pitch left, followed some nice blocking, and broke a couple of tackles on the way to his second touchdown of the game, increasing the Tiger lead to 21-7 – with 5:03 left in the first half.

The Wildcats had yet another nice return and started at their own 42.  Langevin took a pitch around left end for 21 yards on first down.  On fourth and five from the 32, LaValle burst through the left side for 15 yards, giving the Wildcats a first down at the Princeton 17.  But on fourth and five from the 12, Lewis was sacked, and Princeton took over on downs.  A few plays later, the clock hit 0:00, and the Wildcats went into halftime trailing 21-7.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, the Tigers appeared content to continue to squib their kickoffs and let the Wildcat start from good field position, around the 40-yard line.  The Wildcats moved the ball downfield and faced fourth and two from the Tiger 35.  The ever-reliable LaValle took a handoff and plowed up the middle for two yards and a first down.  On the next play, Lewis sent a quick pass to Langevin in the left flat.  Langevin headed up the right sideline and would have scored, but a diving ankle tackle tripped him up from behind, and he had to settle for a ten-yard gain and a first down.  The Wildcats got one more first down, but the drive stalled at the eight and they had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Morley to cut the Tiger lead to 21-10.  A few plays into the next Tiger drive, the Tigers had a first down at the Wildcat 46.  Gibbs took a short pitch to the right and headed around right end.  He cut inside to avoid a tackle at the 25 and ran untouched the rest of the way to the end zone, and the Tigers led 28-10.  The Wildcats started the next drive on their own 48 and, after a 12-yard run by Greene, had the ball first and ten on the Princeton 40.  But another bumbled pitch hit the ground and, after the ball got knocked around a bit, the Tigers recovered on the Wildcat 45.  On the first play, Kaiser took a handoff and got loose around left end.  Froberg caught him from behind at the 27, saving a touchdown.  Two plays later, another nice run gave the Tigers a first down on the four.  But they fumbled on second down, and the Wildcats recovered at the four.  A 22-yard run by LaValle got the out of that hole.  On first and ten from the 35, Lewis launched a pass down the right sideline  The ball was underthrown and Langevin had to come back for it.  He made the catch, turned, and ran down the sideline, finally getting tackled at the 26.  Two plays later, LaValle took a handoff, plowed through the initial contact up the middle and raced to the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown to cap off a 96-yard touchdown drive by the Wildcats.  LaValle easily scored on the two-point conversion attempt, and the Wildcats trailed 28-18 partway through the fourth quarter.

After a three and out, a punt and a fair catch, the Wildcats took over at their own 42-yard line.  On the eighth play of the drive, including a 15-yard pass interference penalty, the Wildcats faced first and goal from the nine.  Langevin took a pitch to the left, got some good blocking and dove at the goal line, whacking the ball into the pylon for a touchdown.  Morley’s extra point cut the Tiger led to 28-25 with 3:45 left in the game.  The Wildcats tried an onside kick and nearly recovered it, but the Tigers took over at their own 46.  It looked like the Wildcats had a stop on fourth down that would have given them the ball in great field position, but a penalty allowed Princeton to keep the ball and moved it down to the wildcat 40.  On fourth and four from the Wildcat 34, the Tigers picked up five yards and a first down and, seconds later, the clock ran out and Princeton hung on for a 28-25 win.

“We need to play better complementary football,” said Wildcat head coach Ryan Anderson.  “That means that, when the offense, defense, or special teams make, the next group out there needs to pick them up.  We didn’t do that in the first half tonight and that’s why we fell behind.  We did a much better job of it in the second half, but it wasn’t quite enough.  That will be our focus in practice and for these last two games – playing good complementary football.”


Football Notes

The Wildcats (4-2) will take on the Willmar Cardinals (1-5) tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Willmar High School.  And next week’s season finale at home against the North St. Paul Polars (2-4) will be on Wednesday, October 18 at 6 p.m. due to MEA Weekend.


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