11/1/2012 10:01:00 AM 'Cats set to face Bemidji with state on the line
Eric Brown left plenty of St. Francis defenders in his wake en route to over 200 total yards of offense in the ‘Cats 49-7 win in sections. Photos by Doug Berg
By CHUCK FITZER.
Running backs Eric Brown, Josh Parks and Quade Zupko each rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats crushed the St. Francis Fighting Saints 49-7 in the Section 7AAAAA semifinals last Saturday afternoon, October 27 at Chisago Lakes. The Wildcats piled up over 600 yards of offense in the game and the only score allowed by the defense came when the Wildcats had the game securely in hand. Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Chisago Lakes High School, the number one seeded Wildcats (7-2) will host third-seeded Bemidji for a section championship and a berth in the state tournament. The Lumberjacks (7-3) shut out second-seeded Cambridge-Isanti 21-0 last Saturday to advance to the section final. It’s the first time the Wildcats have played in the section championship game since they lost to Mahtomedi 36-7 in 2008. All three backs averaged over 10 yards per carry against the overwhelmed Saints’ defense. Brown appears fully recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games earlier this season, accounting for over 200 yards in total offense. He ran the ball 10 times for 173 yards and also caught four passes for 56 yards and a score. Parks had 13 carries for 142 yards and Zupko picked up most of his yards in the fourth quarter, picking up 108 yards on just six carries. Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss said, “Quade’s a good running back. He proved it earlier when Brown was out. He hasn’t had a lot of reps lately. Againts St. Francis, he did some good things out there even before the two late touchdowns. It’s nice to have some depth at that position to say the least.
And I think Brown has recovered well from his injury and is playing at a very high level right now. We are able to play him whole game and not worry about it. He’s back in football shape.” Brown scored late in the first quarter to get the Wildcats on the board. He caught a swing pass from quarterback Mitch Berg and turned it into a 24 yard gain to give the Wildcats a first down at the Saint’s 16. On the next play, Brown took a pitch left, hurdled a tackler at the 10 and beat the rest of the St. Francis defense to the front left corner of the end zone for the score. Hunter Lindstrom’s extra point made it 7-0. The Saints tried to throw deep on their next possession, but Will Gillach made a leaping interception in front of the Saint’s receiver to stop that drive at the Wildcat 36 yard line. The ensuing Wildcat drive stalled deep in Saints’ territory. Two plays later, the Saints faced third and 10 from their own 23 yard line.
The Saints’ freshman quarterback, Hunter Trautman, dropped back to pass but never had a chance as Bradee Thompson burst through the line and threw him down, forcing a punt. The Wildcats took over at the Saint 46. Parks picked up ten yards on second down and then showed why he is one of the top junior running backs in the state. He took a handoff from Berg and cut through a hole towards the right sideline. He broke a tackle as he snaked his way along the sideline and broke a second tackle at the 15 before finally being knocked out of bounds at the seven. On the next play, Parks took a handoff right, was hit at the three and dove into the end zone to put the Wildcats up 13-0. The Wildcats scored in just three plays the next time they touched the ball.
On second down from near midfield, Berg fired a laser over the middle to Kellen Reed. Reed was hit immediately by three Saints’ defenders, but hung on to the ball to give the Wildcats a first down at the Saint 26. On the next play, Berg rolled right. He hit Brown in stride at the ten. Brown was hit immediately but dragged the tackler into the front corner of the end zone. The Wildcats led 19-0 and the rout was on. The Wildcats kept up the pressure early in the second half. Parks ran through a huge hole on the right side of the line and took off. He was pushed out of bounds at the St. Francis seven yard line after a gain of 37. He plowed into the end zone on the next play. Berg hit Reed on a fade pattern for the two point conversion, and the Wildcats led 27-0. On the Wildcats’ next drive, penalties left them facing second and 32 at their own 16 yard line. Parks again found ample running room on the right side, getting knocked out of bounds after a gain of 30. On the next play, Berg rolled right with Brown trailing. Just as Berg was about to be hit after picking up five yards, he pitched the ball to Brown and Brown was off to the races. He galloped past the Saints’ defense down the right sideline for a 54 yard touchdown. Bradee Thompson leaped high to catch Berg’s pass for the two point conversion and the Wildcats led 35-0. The Saints’ lone offensive highlight came at the end of the third quarter. Senior Ben Monnier made a leaping one-handed grab of a pass from Trautman that went over 50 yards in the air and then ran another 15 yards down the right sideline before being knocked out of bounds at the Wildcat 20.
The Saints scored four plays later, avoiding the shutout. The Wildcats put together a two play touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Jake Sandgren raced though a big hole up the middle and picked up 29 yards. On the next play, Zupko took a handoff to the right and showed off some speed as he ran around end and all the way to the end zone untouched for a touchdown. Sophomore Michael Dunne came in at quarterback on the Wildcats’ final drive of the game. He picked up 20 yards on four carries. Zupko finished off the drive with a 42 yard run, making a nice cut inside a block at the 15 before rolling into the end zone with the final points of the game. “Those were the two longest touchdowns I ever scored,” said Zupko. “And that’s the first time I’ve rushed for over 100 yards since I was in flag football in second grade. I guess I got my speed from my dad.” Zupko was asked if it’s difficult to play a backup role in the explosive Wildcat offense. “No,” he said. “I’m always ready to play. Brown and Parks are great athletes. I am happy to play my role and step in to make some plays when I’m needed.” Senior linebacker Joe Davis helped to lead the Wildcats’ dominant performance on defense. He said “We came into this one pretty fired up. We wanted to show them who was in charge, whose house they were in. The defensive line did a great job and the linebackers flew around making crazy plays. And we had some smart plays by a young player like Will Gillach.
He stepped up big today and has done so all season.” Defensive lineman Bradee Thompson, who has about ten sacks this season, credited an injured teammate with helping him play well. He said “Jake Westbury mentors me in practice. I’ve gotten to the point where if I watch enough film I know when a pass is coming up and I can pin my ears back and go.” Not surprisingly, Weiss was pleased with his team’s performance. He said “All three phases – offense, defense and special teams – seemed to click pretty well. It was a good afternoon for us. Defensive line-wise we played the best we’ve played all year. Avery Peterson and Bradee Thompson were very solid at the ends. But the difference makers tonight were the guys inside – Matt Hasselquist, Dan Hobson and Christian Schmidt. They have been effective all year. We needed them to show up big in the playoffs and this was hands down best game they’ve played this season. It was good to see them hit their stride at this point of the year. Weiss talked about tomorrow night’s opponent. “Bemidji has a good program,” he said. “They’ve been pretty competitive for the last several years.
They’re primarily a running team, but they like to spread things out a little bit. We need to play well in space and stop their running game. They have been solid defensively all year. It’s pretty impressive that they shut out Cambridge. From our side, we have a pretty good team from both a talent level and a competitiveness level. A lot of our games have come down to the fourth quarter and our guys have responded will and come out on top. We’ve had a lot of positive experiences late in games and that matters for something. We just have to go out there and do what we do and let the rest take care of itself.”