September 8, 2023 at 2:04 p.m.
APOLLO GROUNDED: Wildcats beat Eagles in season opener
New Wildcat head football coach Ryan Anderson can’t complain that his first game was boring.
In the third overtime, Jacob Showers intercepted a St. Cloud Apollo Eagle pass in the end zone on fourth and 7 to keep the score tied at 38-38. Just a couple of minutes later, Wildcat fullback Evan LaValle scored from one yard out to give the Wildcats an exciting 44-38 win in front of the home crowd Thursday, August 31 at Chisago Lakes High School.
The game started well for the Wildcats. After forcing a three and out and a short punt on the opening drive, the Wildcats took over at the Eagle 30. After a keeper by Wildcat quarterback Gavin Lewis, LaValle took over. He had two nine yard runs and finished it off with a six-yard touchdown run. Brycen Morley’s extra point was good, and the Wildcats led 7-0 just over two minutes into the game.
Apollo moved the ball well on their next possession, but the Wildcat defense stiffened deep in their own territory and took over at their own 26. The Wildcats missed a big opportunity to score. A receiver got behind the Eagle defense deep in Apollo territory but dropped a pass in stride. On the next play, a 34-yard completion to Carson Langevin got the ball down to the Eagle 21. But the Wildcats were stopped on downs.
After an Eagle three and out, the Wildcats again took over at their own 26. They moved the ball well, using the legs of LaValle, Langevin and Lewis along with a nice pass from Lewis to Logan Bender. On third and one from the 15, Lewis appeared to complete a touchdown pass to a Wildcat receiver, but the receiver was called for pass interference, negating the touchdown. After a deep sack, the Wildcats were forced to punt, and the Eagles took over at their own 21. They scored in just five plays and converted a two pointer to go up 8-7 with 4:21 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs started the ensuing drive on their own 33. A 14-yard run by Langevin, seven-yard run by Lewis and a 31-yard pass play from Lewis to Langevin moved the ball down to the Apollo 17. Four plays later, LaValle bulled is way up the middle from the three for a touchdown. Morley snuck his extra point try just over the crossbar and just inside the right post to make it 14-8 with 1:24 left in the half, and that was the lead going into halftime.
The Wildcats started from their own 29 at the beginning of the third quarter. They moved the ball down to the Eagle 20 in just five plays, highlighted by a 20-yard pass from Lewis to Jadon Greene. But on first and ten from the 20, Lewis underthrew a receiver in the end zone and the ball was intercepted, stopping the Wildcat drive. On the ensuing drive, Apollo passed their way down the field. They went in from two yards out, the two-point pass was good, and Apollo led for the second time in the game, 16-14, with 6:43 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats stalled at midfield on their next drive and were forced to punt. The Eagles put on a solid rush. The punter must not have noticed that the upback was directly in front of him, as he punted it right into the backside of the upback. An Eagle player scooped it up in stride and ran untouched into the end zone for a touchdown. On the two-point conversion attempt, quarterback Da’Vion Jackson dropped back to pass and was flushed forward. It looked like he had a shot at getting to the end zone, but Marcello Cardoni wrapped him up at the five, keeping the score at 22-14 with 2:26 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats followed with a nine-play scoring drive, highlighted by a 19-yard run from Langevin and two ten-yard keepers by Lewis. On second and one from the five, Lewis waltzed through a giant hole on the left side of the line for a touchdown, cutting the Apollo lead to 22-20. On the two-point conversion try, LaValle took the ball to the left and dove into the end zone to tie the game at 22-22 with 11:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles nearly scored in their next drive. On second and eight from their own 28, Jackson launched a long pass to the left. A receiver caught it at the Wildcat 40 and raced down the left sideline toward the end zone. But Joseph Couwenhoven caught him from behind at the 16, saving a touchdown. On third and 15 from the 21, the Apollo center snapped the ball while the quarterback wasn’t looking. The Eagles fell on the ball at the 38 and turned it over on downs to the Wildcats on the next play. But after nice runs by Lewis and Langevin, the Wildcats fumbled on a handoff exchange and the Eagles took over at their own 27.
With time winding down in the game, Apollo went on a long drive. In ten plays, they moved the ball down to the Wildcats seven, using a lot of clock. Their first two plays from the seven went nowhere. On third and goal, Jackson was forced to throw the ball away. On fourth down, he threw the ball out of bounds in the right corner of the end zone, with just over a minute remaining in the game. The Wildcats took over and appeared to be trying to run out the clock. But with 12 seconds left and the clock running, they had a scary moment when a pitch to the right was mishandled and dropped onto the field. Luckily, the ball rolled out of bounds with four seconds left. The Wildcats kneeled it down on the next play and the game was headed to overtime, tied 22-22.
The Eagles went first from the ten in overtime. They passed for a touchdown on the second play and converted their two pointer to go up 30-22. The Wildcats responded with a five-yard run by LaValle finished off with a dive into the end one for a touchdown. LaValle ran into the end zone through a big hole on the left for a two pointer, and the score was tied 30-30.
The Wildcats sent first in the second overtime. After LaValle went nine yards on first down, he took it into the end zone on the next play and ran in the two pointer to make it 38-30. For the Eagles, a receiver dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone on second and nine, but they ran the exact same play again for a touchdown and converted the two pointer to tie the game at 38-38.
In the third overtime, it was once again Apollo’s turn to go first. After two incompletions, a six-yard run and a five-yard penalty, they faced fourth down from the nine. LaValle lofted a pass toward what looked like a wide open receiver int the middle of the end zone. But Showers raced over and leaped in front of the receiver, intercepting the ball, and stopping the Apollo scoring attempt. If the Wildcats could score on their turn, the game would be over. Langevin went nine yards on first down, getting stopped just short of the end zone. La Valle was stopped on second down but plowed into the end zone on third down for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 44-38 win.
“That was fun and nerve-wracking,” said Anderson. “I experienced all kinds of emotions. But my biggest take from this game is that we never gave up. We battled hard, and showed grit, perseverance, and resilience. They did it right out of the gate in game one of the season and left it all on the field. They showed a lot of heart.”
Anderson talked about some of the players who were keys to the opening game win. He said “Evan LaValle, with four touchdowns, is a force to be reckoned with. He is always falling forward on his runs and is fun to watch . Carson Langevin had a nice night with about 150 combined yards of rushing and receiving. Gavin Lewis did a nice job of running the offense, getting good reads, and getting us into successful plays. Our linebackers, the most experienced part of our defense, played downhill and played physical. The defense overall is inexperienced, but they played will in the three overtimes and got a lot of experience real quick. And Jacob Showers at free safety came up with the huge interception on fourth and nine to give us a chance to score and win. And we did. This is definitely a fame I won’t forget.”
The Wildcats (1-0) will take on a familiar foe, the Cambridge-Isanti Bluejackets, tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Cambridge-Isanti High School.