October 20, 2023 at 1:36 p.m.
‘Cats put it all together and demolish Willmar 42-14
For the last two weeks – both losses – the Wildcats got down by two scores early, partly because of turnovers, and ended up losing both games. Facing steady rain and heavy winds against the Willmar Cardinals, the Wildcats flipped the script and took an early two-score lead. They put together their most complete game of the season on both sides of the ball and crushed the Cardinals 42-14 Friday, October 13 at Hodapp Field at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. The Wildcats turned two turnovers into touchdowns and piled up nearly 400 yards of offense, led by fullback Evan LaValle’s 29 carries for 159 yards and quarterback Gavin Lewis’ three rushing touchdowns.
On their opening drive, Willmar started on their own 20, ran nine plays for 45 yards, and ate up over seven minutes on the clock, at one point overcoming a bad snap that caused a 15-yard loss. The Cardinals faced third and eight from the Wildcat 35. For the second time early in the game, the snap sailed over the head of quarterback Jordan Ellingson. He picked it up at midfield but was hit from behind by Riley Estes and fumbled the ball again. Brycen Morley scooped up the ball at the Willmar 42 for the Wildcats and ran untouched to the end zone. The holder fumbled the snap on the extra point attempt, throwing off kicker Morley’s rhythm, and the extra point was no good. The Wildcats led 6-0. They forced a three and out on Willmar’s next possession and took over at their own 48. The Wildcats moved the ball easily down the field, with the shortest gain being six yards. On the sixth play of the drive, the Wildcats faced first and ten at the 15. Jadon Greene took the handoff to the right, the offensive line sealed off the edge and Greene outraced a Cardinal defensive back closing at an angle to the front right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The Wildcats’ two-point attempt was stuffed at the line, and they led 12-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
After another Willmar three and out and a short punt, the Wildcats took over at midfield and went on a ten-play drive that ate up over five minutes off the clock. On first and ten from the 24, Lewis ran a keeper through a huge hole on the left. A Cardinal defensive back got ready for a tackle, but a shimmy move by Lewis threw him off, and Lewis cut inside and scored easily. Evan LaValle converted the two-pointer, and the Wildcats led 20-0 with 8:53 left in the first half. On the ensuing drive, Ellison used some nifty moves to snake through the Wildcat line and got loose, running 54 yards for a touchdown. He also converted the two-pointer, cutting the Wildcat lead to 20-8. Starting from their own 20 after a touchback, the Wildcat offense again encountered little resistance as they moved the ball down the field, with runs of 23 yards by Lewis and 15 yards by Carson Langevin leading the way. But on fourth and goal from the five, Lewis threw the Wildcats only pass of the game, and it was intercepted in the end zone. The Wildcats went into halftime leading 20-8.
Opening the third quarter, starting at their own 37 after a squib kickoff and recovery, the Wildcats went on a 15-play drive that ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock. Lewis waltzed into the end zone through a big hole on the right side from four yards out and LaValle easily converted the two-pointer to make it 28-8. After a nice return on the subsequent kickoff, the Cardinals started their first drive of the second half at the Wildcat 47. The drive lasted exactly one play. Ellingson dropped back and threw a long pass down the right sideline – right to Wildcat Blake Seifert standing alone at the 27 yard line. Siefert returned the ball six yards, and the Wildcat offense was back in business. On the first play of the drive, Carson Langevin took a handoff left, broke two tackles and started running down the sideline. He was caught from behind at the 30, but shook off that tackle and was finally taken down at the 14, a run of 53 yards. After a 13-yard run by LaValle, Lewis plunged up the middle from the one into the end zone and, after an unsuccessful three point attempt, the Wildcats led 34-8. On the ensuing drive, the Cardinals ran a dozen plays before Ellingson went over from the four. After a failed two-point attempt, the Wildcats led 34-14 with ten minutes to go in the game.
The Cardinals tried on onside kick, but the Wildcats recovered at the Willmar 47. LaValle burst up the middle for 30 yards on first down. Three plays later, Lewis bulled his way into the end zone from the one and, after he ran for the two point conversion, the Wildcats led 42-14 with 6:59 left in the game, and that’s how it ended.
Wildcat head coach Ryan Anderson said “We talked last week about needing to play complementary football in order to be successful, and we did it in this game in poor weather conditions. We never punted once on offense and the defense kept doing their job and getting off the field quickly. To me, the defining moment of the game came after we received the opening half kickoff and put together a drive of nearly eight minutes that ended up in points. On the next Willmar series, Blake Siefert got the interception and that led to some quick points. We spent a lot of time on offense in the third quarter, with a little help from our defense. We protected the ball well on offense throughout the game.”
In addition to LaValle’s usual 100-plus yard game, Gavin Lewis ran for 89 yards and Carson Langevin did him one better – literally, by rushing for 90 yards.
The Wildcats (5-2) finished out the regular season against the North St. Paul Polars (2-5) last night in the final game of the regular season, with the score coming in too late for publication in this week’s Press. The game was played on Wednesday because of the long MEA weekend starting today.
The Section 3AAAA playoffs will get underway next Tuesday, October 24. If the Wildcats beat the Polars last night, they will likely end up with the number two or three seed and a home game. They could play any one of four teams, depending on last night’s results of all high school games. If the Wildcats win next Tuesday, they will play again next Saturday, October 28, with the opponent and site to be determined. We will preview that game in next week’s Press.