10/4/2013 1:52:00 PM 'Cats knocked out of the undefeated ranks by STMA
by CHUCK FITZER
The Wildcats faced their toughest test of the season at St. Michael-Albertville (STMA) last Friday night. The two teams played a very clean, entertaining high school football game. But the Wildcats fell behind 10-0 and, despite 170 yards rushing from Josh Parks, were never quite able to catch up. They ended up losing to the Knights 37-26. The game was played at the Middle School West field in Albertville. Trailing 37-26 with 6:30 remianing in the game, the Wildcats had a chance to cut into the lead after STMA’s only turnover of the game, but failed to capitalize on it.
The Wildcats punted from their own 49 yard line. The Knights called for a fair catch at their own 22. On first down, the STMA running back was hit hard at the line of scrimmage and the ball popped loose. Parks scooped up the fumble and returned it to the STMA 13 yard line. A false start penalty pushed the Wildcats back five yards. Two plays later, the Wildcats faced third and 17 from the 20. Kaleb Paehlke plowed up the middle and broke free for 15 yards, getting hauled down just two yards short of a first down. The Wildcats gave the ball to Parks on fourth down. He headed up the middle and was stood up and stopped two feet short of a first down with 4:30 left in the game, turning the ball over to STMA on downs.
The Knights kept the ball for the next three minutes and, after a bit of a scare from a high snap on their punt, left the Wildcats too little time to come back. The Knights surprised the Wildcats with a pooch kick to open the game, recovering the ball at the Wildcat 40 yard line. They ran for 15 yards on the first play after the recovery, but the Wildcat defense held firm after that. The Knights kicked a 37 yard field goal and led 3-0 just a couple of minutes into the game. The Wildcats managed one first down on the ensuing possession, but were forced to punt from deep in their own territory and the Knights took over at their own 46. They went on an eight play drive, capped off by a 39 touchdown yard run by Chris Kartes. STMA led 10-0 midway through the first quarter. The Wildcats started on their own 23 yard line after the ensuing kickoff and went on a nine play, 77 yard drive. On third and five from the STMA 35 yard line, quarterback Mitch Berg threw in the direction of wide receiver Michael Dunne. Dunne made a nice catch at the 19 to give the Wildcats a first down. On the next play, Berg hit wide receiver Will Gillach over the middle with a nice pass at the goal line, and Gillach stepped into the end zone for a touchdown. Hunter Thompson kicked the extra point, and the Wildcats trailed just 10-7 two plays into the second quarter.
Starting from their own 37 on the next possession, the Knights moved down the field faced first down at the Wildcat 38 yard line. Knight wide receiver Dallas Freeman got behind the Wildcat secondary and quarterback Jackson Greenwaldt lofted the ball down the middle in Freeman’s direction. Freeman slowed down to haul the ball in at the five and ran into the end zone, putting the Knights up 17-7 with 8:17 left in the half. The Wildcats answered with a 14 play drive of their own. Starting at their own 25, Parks went around left end for 15 yards on the first play. On the next play, Berg faked right, rolled left and hit Gillach with a bullet at the STMA 38. On fourth and two from the30, Park plowed up the middle for five yards to give the Wildcats a first down. On fourth and eight from the 23, the Wildcats again called on Parks, and he took a pitch around left end for nine yards and a first down at the STMA 14. Three plays later, the Wildcats faced fourth and seven at the 11.
Berg dropped back, stepped out of the way of the oncoming rush and hit Gillach on a slant at the three. Gillach dove into the end zone and, after Thompson’s extra point, the Wildcats had cut the lead to 17-14 with just under three minutes remaining in the first half. The Wildcats forced the Knights into a three and out on the ensuing possession and went into halftime trailing by three. The Knights scored on the opening possession of the third quarter to stretch their lead to 23-14. After starting on their own 20 on the ensuing possession, the Wildcats faced third and four on their own 26. Parks took a pitch right and, with some great blocking, was off to the races down the right sideline. He cut back toward the middle at the STMA 40 and was finally hauled down at the 26 after a 48 yard run. On fourth and one from the 17, Berg faked the ball to Paehlke, stepped to the left and ran untouched up the middle to the end zone with 5:08 left in the third quarter to cut the Knight lead, after a missed extra point, to 23-20. For the third time in the game, the Wildcats had pulled within three points after trailing by 9 or 10.
The scoring continued. Greenwaldt hit Freeman with a 15 yard pass after the Wildcat defensive back fell down and Freeman ran the rest of the way untouched for a 48 yard touchdown play to put the Knights up 30-20. The Wildcats again answered with a score of their own. On first and 10 from the Wildcats 29, Parks took the ball up the middle, broke a tackle, cut left and sprinted all the way to the Knight 39 for a 34 yard gain. The Wildcats continued to move down the field. On second and goal from the seven, Parks took a pitch left, cut upfield on the numbers, muscled through a couple of tacklers and stepped into the end zone standing up. The Wildcats failed to convert the extra point, but trailed just 30-26 with ten minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, STMA continued the game’s pattern and scored on their next drive. Not surprisingly, Greenwaldt connected with Freeman for the third time in the game and the Knights led 37-26 with 7:39 remaining. The Knights finally stopped the Wildcats on the next drive with a three and out. When the Wildcats failed to take advantage of the ensuing turnover, the outcome was sealed.
“It was a very good high school football game,” said Wildcat head coach Bill Weiss. “Each team had only one turnover, and ours came late in the game after things were already decided. After they stole the first possession with the onside kick and kicked the field goal, we matched them most of the rest of the game. It became a two possession game midway through the fourth quarter and we were pushing to score twice in the last few minutes. Even if we had scored late, we would have needed to come up with a stop or recover an onside kick, either of which would have been tough to do. Stealing that first possession and getting three points out of it ended up being a major difference maker. Parks finished the game with 19 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown. “I think we all know Josh has a lot of talent,” said Weiss. “In the first three games, he did the bulk of his work in the first half because we were so far ahead by halftime. With tougher opponents the last couple of games, he has played full games, so we are seeing more of him and what he can do with the ball.” Weiss had praise for his offensive line, which has been dogged by injuries this season. “I thought all five guys we had in there tonight did a tremendous job,” he said. “We moved Matt Hasselquist to guard and he had never played there before. Tyler Peterfeso has been our ironman this season, the only starter who hasn’t been knocked out with an injury. We got Taylor Streitz back from an injury and that was huge. Luke Koskie helped us out at center for the second week in a row. And sophomore Dylan Wood stepped in as a regular for the first time. The offensive production we had was a credit to all of them. Koskie and Hasselquist were regulars on the defensive line, too. I thought the defensive line as a whole played well. It was a tall order against a physically big team like St. Michael and our guys played right with them.”
The Wildcats (4-1) will head up County Road 14 to take on the Vikings (2-3) at North Branch High School tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Vikings are on a two game winning streak. Weiss said “I know they’ll be well prepared. They’ll have a good plan for us and will work on it all week. I don’t doubt that for a second. Hopefully we can execute our game plan and play at high level. If we do that, we should be all right. It should be a fun game.”