9/6/2013 2:50:00 PM Chisago Lakes stings Big Lake, crushes Hornets 40-7
Joe Virga picks his first pass off before returning it for a touchdown.
Josh Parks scores his first touchdown of the game
by CHUCK FITZER
Junior Joe Virga returned two interceptions for more than 80 yards each for touchdowns to spark the Wildcats to a 40-7 thrashing of Big Lake in the season opener last Friday, August 30 at Chisago Lakes High School. Virga’s first touchdown came with just over a minute left in the first quarter and the Wildcats trailing 7-6. Facing third and 10 from the Wildcats 25, Big Lake quarterback Tyler Halverson rolled left and fired a pass toward a receiver racing toward the left sideline near the five yard line. Virga, at the 19, leaped and tipped the ball into the air. The ball dropped into his arms and he raced down the right sideline 81 yards for a touchdown. Senior quarterback Mitch Berg hit wide open senior tight end Josh Dutcher over the middle for the two point conversion and the Wildcats led 14-7. With the Wildcats leading 27-7 late in the third quarter, Big Lake was moving the ball well and threatening to score to tighten things up.
Facing first and goal at the Wildcat nine yard line, Halverson took the snap. As he looked for a receiver, Dutcher burst through the line and started chasing him to the right. Dutcher caught up with Halverson and, as Dutcher hauled Halverson to the ground, Halverson threw an ill-advised desperation pass – right into the arms of a waiting Virga. Virga again took off down the field, this time outrunning the Big Lake defense 90 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown with 4:40 left in the third quarter for a 33-7 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach. After the defense stopped Big Lake on a three and out on the game’s opening drive, the Wildcats took over at their own 38 yard line. With the ball at the 50, senior fullback Kaleb Paehlke had rushes of 15 and ten yards to put the ball at the 25. On first down, senior halfback Josh Parks hit the hole to the left and powered the ball down to the ten yard line. On first and goal, Parks took a handoff to the right, broke a tackle at the seven and raced into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 6-0 lead with 7:41 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats failed to convert the extra point. On the ensuing drive, Big Lake used a series of short passes to move quickly down the field. On third and 12 from their own 46, Halverson hit wide receiver Austin Poe in stride deep down the right sideline for a touchdown and the Hornets led 7-6 after the extra point with 5:12 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats fumbled at midfield on their next possession. A 15 yard facemasking penalty on the Wildcats helped to keep the Big Lake drive alive. But Virga’s interception return three plays later changed the course of the game and gave the Wildcats all of the momentum. On the ensuing Big Lake possession, junior defensive back Will Gillach delivered a devastating blow to Hornet receiver Kyle Wakefield, who had just turned around after a reception near the line of scrimmage. But Gillach stood over Wakefield a second too long and was penalized for taunting. Big Lake took advantage of the penalty, moving the ball deep into Wildcat territory. On fourth and five from the 17, Halverson overthrew his receiver for an incompletion, and the Wildcats took over.
The Wildcats went on a 12 play, 83 yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Paehlke carried the ball six times for 32 yards on the drive. On first and ten from the Hornet 34, Berg took the snap, stepped back and fired to Paehlke on the left. Paehlke twisted his body to make a nice catch and was knocked out of bounds at the 24. On first and goal from the four, Paehlke took the handoff and waltzed through a huge hole into the end zone for a touchdown. Senior Hunter Thompson kicked his first career extra point, and the Wildcats led 21-7 with just under four minutes left in the half. On the ensuing kickoff, the Big Lake return man ran to the right and looked like he might go all the way. But kicker Trevor Gervais made a touchdown saving tackle at midfield. The Hornets again moved the ball down the field. With 33 seconds left in the half, they faced fourth and three from the seven yard line. A pass into the middle of the end zone glanced off the wide open receiver’s hands and the Wildcats led 21-7 at the half. After the teams exchanged possession to begin the second half, the Wildcats took over at their own 20. On first down, Parks took a handoff from Berg, broke two tackles and ran 49 yards before he was caught near the left sideline.
On third and 15 from the 36, Berg hit Kellen Reed over the middle. A nice block by Matt Hasselquist helped turn it into a 20 yard gain for Reed. On first down from the 17, Berg hit Gillach in stride over the middle at the three and Gillach stepped into the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked and the Wildcats led 27-7 with 8:18 left in the third quarter. After Virga’s second touchdown a few minutes later, the Wildcats stopped Big Lake on a three and out and took over at their own 31. The Wildcats went on a 13 play drive, with Berg completing several key passes. On second and 7 from the Wildcat 44, Berg threw to the right. Senior halfback Jake McKenzie made a leaping catch and ran down to the Hornet 30. Facing third and 18 from the 38, Berg hit Gillach on a crossing pattern over the middle and Gillach was tackled at the 17 for a Wildcat first down. A touchdown run by Parks on the next play was negated by a holding penalty. Berg hooked up with Reed near the right sideline at the nine, and Reed muscled the ball down to the four for a first down.
On third and goal from the eight, Berg rolled left and pitched the ball to Parks. Parks ran toward the sideline and looked like he was going to step out of bounds. But he cut back inside at the five and dove into the end zone for a touchdown. After the extra point, the Wildcats led 40-7 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Both teams played backups in the fourth quarter and the final score remained 40-7. The Wildcats were expected to rely on Parks for a lot of their offense this season, but they showed a different side in the season opener.
Wildcats head coach Bill Weiss said “Josh is very talented, but we’ve got some guys willing to step up and show we’re not a one horse offense. Mitch Berg was good last year and picked up there he left off. Jake McKenzie showed he can be good receiver. Caleb Paehlke showed what type of runner he can be. “This was kind of a typical first game. We made some mistakes, but I’m proud of the guys for overcoming them. We played well in all three phases of the game. They did move the ball on us. We played bend but don’t break football and we’ll take that. We had two turnovers that stopped drives, but we didn’t have one punt all night. In a sense, we only stopped ourselves,” Weiss explained. “I thought for the first game a lot of good things happened out there and we learned some things we need to do to get better.” The Hornets used a short passing game extensively.
Hornet quarterback Halverson completed 24 of 35 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. 21 of the completions were for ten yards or less. Weiss talked about some of the defensive players that made a difference. He said “Our linebacking crew of Dutcher, Parks, Paehlke and Daniel Streitz played well. We relied on those guys to make tackles on short passes and limit the yards after catch. Jeremiah Jones, Kyle Graeve and Gillach had also contributed to limiting Big Lake’s excellent passing game. I think we have some nice things to look forward to this year.” Virga’s interception returns were the first defensive touchdowns for the Wildcats in two years. Virga showed no ill effects from a knee injury suffered during last winter’s state wrestling tournament, outracing the entire Big Lake defense twice down the full length of the field. “That’s a long way to run,” said Virga. “I was gassed by the end of each run. But my knee feels great.” Gillach, who had three very hard hits in the game, said of his taunting penalty, “I kind of looked down at the guy after I hit him and I guess the ref didn’t like that.” When asked where he developed his aggressive style, he grinned and said, “I guess it came from beating on my brother.”
Over the past couple of years, the Wildcats have clearly made the pass a more important part of their offense. “It’s fun for me as the quarterback,” said Berg. “We worked on this together in the offseason and ran routes a lot of mornings. It’s nice to have a balanced attack and spread the wealth.” Parks rushed 12 times for 123 yards to lead the Wildcats and Paehlke chipped in with 51 yards on eight carries. Berg spread the ball around to five different receivers, completing eight of 13 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Wildcats (1-0) will head up to Duluth to play Mississippi 8 Conference foe Duluth Denfeld tomorrow night at 7 p.m.