Wildcats take on state champs

(Photo courtesy of Tim Kruse)

The schedule makers didn’t do any favors for the Waconia football team this season, as the ‘Cats opened the season on the road against the defending state champions Benilde-St. Margeret’s Sept. 1.

“We were fine with it,” said coach Corey Shea of the tough opening game. “Our defense played really tough, we were focused, we weren’t intimated.”

A few early season jitters cost Waconia, but they bounced back with resilience to keep the game within reach. A couple of early turnovers gave the Scarlet Knights a quick 14-0 lead, before Waconia settled in and competed against one of the best teams in Class AAAA.

“Once we settled in we played well,” said Shea. “Without a few costly turnovers at the beginning, we would be fighting until the end.”

Trailing 21-7 at the break, Waconia opened the second half with an impressive 5 minute drive that found pay dirt to bring the ‘Cats within a score. The two sides remained close until the end, when Benilde-St. Margeret’s would go on to score once more late in the game, putting the final at 28-14.

In addition to playing from behind, Waconia was without two offensive weapons as both Ethan Swanson and Nolan Hoehn were sidelined due to first quarter injuries. Mitch Garnatz, the other half of the running back duo that includes Swanson, had to take on extra responsibilities in the backfield, and quarterback Nolan Vanderhoff was without one of his top receivers with Hoehn out.

Vanderhoff threw for 216 yards and a pair of scores with an interception, with Will Koppi emerging as the favorite target. Koppi led the ‘Cats receiving corps with six grabs and 105 yards. Jaden Vanderhoff and Garrett Blink each had five catches, tallying 59 and 25 yards respectively. Jaden Vanderhoff caught both of the touchdown passes from Nolan Vanderhoff, with one coming on a fourth down strike.

The Waconia defense did well having to overcome three turnovers, sacking the Scarlet Knights three times and forcing two fumbles. Jake Hawkins led the effort on defense, tallying 5.5 tackles, 7 assists, and 2 tackles for loss.

“He was definitely the leader of our defense,” Shea said. “He was all over the field making tackles.”

Tony Hartmann picked up two of the sacks while Alec Olson had the other.

Waconia moves on to face Hopkins on the road Sept. 8, facing an aggressive defensive team that likes to blitz and play man coverage. Though the ‘Cats face another tough foe, they are excited to get back on to the field and battle for another 48 minutes.

“It will be another test,” Shea said. “But we are excited about redemption.”