11/8/2012 8:33:00 AM Two last-second field goal attempts failed after Chisago Lakes gave up
a 13-point halftime lead to Bemidji in the section championship game
Dan Sargeant had to stutter step on his second field goal attempt because of a bad exchange and it ended up getting blocked by the Lumberjacks.
By JEFF NORTON
With no time remaining in the Section 7AAAAA championship game, the top-seeded Wildcat football team was given a second chance to try a field goal after a Bemidji Lumberjack penalty on the 47 yard first attempt, which fell a little short. But Dan Sargeant never got the chance at the re-kick from 42 yards. The off-center snap was bobbled and dropped and a pile of players fell on the ball, ending the game and enabling the third-seeded Lumberjacks to hang on for a 31-29 win and a trip to the state tournament. The Wildcats, who had a 23-10 lead at halftime, outplayed the Lumberjacks all night. But three of the four Wildcat turnovers in the game occurred inside the Wildcat 30 yard line. Each of those three times, the Lumberjacks took advantage of the short field and scored a touchdown, accounting for 21 of the 31 points they scored in the game. “Four turnovers in a section championship game are just too much to overcome,” said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss.
“Those are mistakes you can’t afford to make.” The turnover woes began early in the game for the Wildcats. The Wildcat defense forced Bemidji into a three and out on the game’s opening drive. After a short punt, the Wildcats took over at their own 45 yard line. Six plays later, they faced third and 13 from the Bemidji 39 yard line. Wildcat quarterback Mitch Berg dropped back to pass and fired toward the right sideline.
Unfortunately, the intended receiver either fell down or quit on his route and only Lumberjack defenders were near the ball. Bemidji defensive back Richard Seado intercepted the pass and returned it to the Wildcat 42 yard line. A 15 yard penalty for a horsecollar on the tackle gave the Lumberjacks a first down at the Wildcat 27 yard line. On second and six, Bemidji quarterback James Hendricks ran through a hole to the left and hurdled a Wildcat tackler inside the 10. He fumbled the ball, but the Lumberjacks recovered it at the Wildcat four yard line. Running back Brady Schmidt ran through a big hole on the right side of the line untouched into the end zone and, after the extra point, the Lumberjacks led the shell-shocked Wildcats 7-0 with 6:40 left in the first quarter. Starting from their own 20 after a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats answered quickly in spectacular fashion. On second and seven, Josh Parks took a pitched right and turned the corner. About 10 yards downfield, he lowered his shoulder and plowed into a Bemidji defensive back, sending the tackler sprawling and picking up an additional five yards. On second and six from the Wildcat 41, Eric Brown took the handoff and raced through a hole up the middle. A devastating block by fullback Kaleb Paehlke cleared the rest of the path for Brown and he ran all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. Hunter Lindstrom’s extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 5:11 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats went to the air on their next possession. On second and 10 from their own 31 yard line, Berg hit Parks with a pass near the left sideline. Parks made some great moves as he ran downfield and some great downfield blocking enabled him to pick up 36 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Lumberjack 33. An 11 yard completion to Brown helped the Wildcats move the ball inside the Bemidji 10 yard line. On third and goal from the nine, Berg hit Brown with a pass in the left flat. But Brown was tackled immediately as the first quarter ended. On the first play of the second quarter, Sargeant split the uprights with a 25 yard field goal, and the Wildcats held their first lead of the game at 10-7. The Lumberjacks came back with a 13 play drive of their own. But on third and 4 from the Wildcat 12, a whole host of Wildcat tacklers stopped Schmidt after a two yard gain, forcing the Lumberjacks into a field goal attempt. Bemidji kicker Connor McNallan converted a 29 yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10 with just over seven minutes left in the first half.
The teams exchanged punts on their next two drives, but a mistake on the Bemidji punt helped the Wildcats start their drive in better field position with 3:45 left in the half. Punting from the Wildcat 35 yard line, McNallan lofted the ball toward the goal line. The Wildcats got out of the way. A Bemidji player stood under the ball and if he had caught it, the Wildcats would have been forced to begin the drive from their own one yard line. But at the last second, the player inexplicably moved out of the way and let the ball bounce on the ground and into the end zone for a touchback. The Wildcats drove 80 yards in less than two minutes to take the lead, with Brown leading the way. A 12 yard pass from Berg to Brown and a 28 yard run by Brown highlighted the drive. On second and five from the Bemidji 20, Brown took a pitch left. He made one nice move and then a punishing block by Kellen Reed opened the path towards the end zone. As tacklers closed in on him hear the goal line, Brown dove and held out the ball to knock over the pylon for a touchdown. Lindstrom converted the extra point and the Wildcats led 17-10 with 1:45 left in the half. And they weren’t done yet. On the ensuing Bemidji drive, a sack by Bradee Thompson on second and 10 pushed the Lumberjacks back to their own 18 yard line. Another stop on third down forced Bemidji to punt from their own 25. McNallan shanked the punt and the Wildcats took over at the Lumberjack 40 with 1:29 left in the half. On second and 10, Berg dropped back, turned left and lofted the ball downfield towards the left sideline.
Will Gillach ran a nice pattern, looked up and the ball dropped right into his hands. He was knocked out of bonds at the 12 yard line with 41 seconds left in the half. On second and seven from the nine, Berg fired a pass into a crowd at the goal line and the pass was nearly picked off. On the next play, Berg rolled right and fired a low bullet to the front of the end zone. Parks dove for it and made the catch for a Wildcat touchdown with 30 seconds left in the half. Lindstrom missed the extra point and the Wildcats led 23-10 going into the intermission. The Wildcat turnover woes began early in the second half. Facing second and seven on just the second play of the half, Berg kept the ball, ran left and was tackled after a short gain. Berg was down on the ground and the play should have been whistled dead, but the ball came loose and the Lumberjacks recovered it. The Lumberjacks scored two plays later to cut the Wildcat lead to 23-17 just over a minute into the second half. Bemidji threatened to score on their next drive. On fourth and 9 from the Wildcat 20, Hendricks lofted a pass toward the end zone. But Kyle Graeve intercepted the ball in the end zone to keep the Wildcat lead at six points. A big play on Bemidji’s next drive gave them the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, facing third and 12 from the Lumberjack 34 yard line, Hendricks found Jaylen Ingalls wide open about 30 yards downfield. Hendricks hit Ingalls in stride with a pass and Ingalls outran the Wildcats all the way to the end zone. The extra point was good and Bemidji led 24-23. After the teams exchanged punts, disaster struck again for the Wildcats. They got the ball back on their own 23 yard line with exactly eight minutes left in the game. On the first play of the drive, the ball was stripped away from Brown and the Lumberjacks recovered at the 28 yard line. It looked like the Wildcats had dodged a bullet after big tackles by Parks and Josh Dutcher on first and second down and a pass knocked down by Thompson on third down.
On fourth and six from the 24, Hendricks rolled right. He faked the run, causing a couple of the Wildcat defensive backs to move toward him. This left Ingalls wide open in the back left corner of the end zone. Hendricks hit the wide open Ingalls for a touchdown and Bemidji led 31-23 with 6:32 left in the game. The Wildcats went on a 12 play drive as they tried to tie things up. Starting from their own 34, they converted three times on third down, including a nine yard pass over the middle to Gillach that gave them a first down on the Bemidji 16. On third and five from the 11, Parks appeared to be stopped short of the first down at the eight yard line, but he carried the pile of tacklers all the way down to the two yard line for a first down. Parks waltzed into the end zone through a huge hole on the right side for a touchdown, and the Wildcats trailed 31-29 with 1:09 left in the game. The Wildcats sent Parks up the middle on the two point conversion attempt. But Parks was stopped less than a foot short of the goal line, and the Wildcats still trailed. After the Wildcat onside kick attempt rolled out of bounds, Bemidji took over at midfield and appeared to have the game in hand. But the Wildcats had saved all three of their timeouts. They stopped the Lumberjacks on three straight running plays, using up all of their timeouts and forcing Bemidji to punt with 53 seconds left in the game.
The Lumberjack punt rolled out of bounds at the Wildcat 21 with 46 seconds left on the clock. On second and ten, Berg threw to Kellen Reed over the middle. Reed made the catch at the 34. The Wildcats lined up quickly and Beg spiked the ball, stopping the clock with 31 seconds left. Berg hit Brown at the left sideline and Brown stepped out of bounds for a first down at the Bemidji 47 to stop the clock with 25.7 seconds left. On second and ten, Berg connected with Gillach over the middle for a 17 yard gain. Berg again spiked the ball to stop the clock with 16.1 seconds left. Three straight incompletion left the Wildcats facing fourth and ten from the 30 with 4.3 seconds remaining in the game. Sargeant booted the ball and it landed nine yards deep in the end zone just to the right of the goal post with no time remaining, and it looked like the game was over. But the Lumberjacks were called for running into the kicker. The ball was moved up to the 25 and the Wildcats were given one untimed down for a second chance at a field goal. But the snap was misplayed and the game ended. It was a disappointing end to a great Wildcat season. “I’ve got to give our kids credit,” said Weiss.
“They fought back and had a chance to win on the last play of the game. We dug a hole for ourselves, fought back and lost. In every close game this year, we had a chance to win at the end and were successful most of the time. On this particular Friday night, it didn’t happen.” “Kellen Reed played a nice game,” said Weiss. “He’s always had good hands and has become more impressive in all phases of the game as the season has progressed. He is a good football player.” Weiss was asked where this team ranked among the better Wildcat squads he has coached over the years. He said “It’s tough to compare year to year. This year’s team is a very special group of kids and that was reflected in their on field performance. It’s too bad we couldn’t set ourselves apart this year by going to the state tournament.”