PREP FOOTBALL: Cougars declaw Wildcats, 22-0
BREWSTER -- Intercepting four passes in the fourth quarter Wednesday night -- including one pick for a 65-yard touchdown -- Cedar Mountain/Comfrey turned what had been a very closely-contested, evenly-played high school football game into a 22-0 Southern Minnesota Conference victory over the hosting Southwestern United Wildcats.
The win was the first of the season for the Cougars, who held a slim 6-0 lead before scoring twice in the game's final five minutes and 28 seconds.
The Wildcats, who finished the contest with 126 yards of net offense and moved the chains for nine first downs -- including crossing midfield several times -- finish the regular season without a win, despite playing several opponents to close games.
Both teams worked hard all night long, distributing the highlight plays evenly until the Cougars (1-7) took control by intercepting the Wildcats (0-8) four times in the game's final 10 minutes.
Trailing 6-0 as the fourth quarter began, SWU moved into Cougars' territory on a 19-yard pass completion -- along the right sideline -- from Justin Jass to Kyle Elder, giving the Wildcats a first down at the CM/C 40-yard stripe.
But a pair of penalties and one of CM/C's 16 tackles for loss in the contest, moved the ball all the way back to the Wildcats' 29-yard line.
Faced with a third down and 41, Jass (six-of-21, 62 yards) fired a pass over the middle, which was intercepted by CM/C's Riley Kerkhoff at the Cougars' 45 and returned 11 yards to SWU's 44-yard stripe.
The Cougars then repeatedly fed the ball to senior running back Marcus Heiling, a bruising 6-2, 225-pound all-around football player, who the Wildcats had held to a mere 15 yards rushing -- on seven carries -- in the first half.
But on this drive, Heiling -- who had rushed for 130 yards last week against undefeated New Ulm Cathedral -- was a hard guy to bring down.
Gains of nine, 10 and eight yards by Heiling moved the ball to the Wildcats' 17. A short gain by Heiling was followed by a five-yard burst by Brady Kerkhoff, a 5-6, 135-pound sophomore.
Heiling carried again to the six-yard stripe -- and after a CM/C timeout -- Heiling capped the seven-play, 44-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run over left guard.
Heiling had carried six times for 39 yards on the march, which chewed up just over four minutes on the clock.
Riley Kerkhoff (nine-of-14 passing for 89 yards, one touchdown) fired an eight-yard pass -- after a five-yard penalty on the Cougars -- to Shawn Sherman (two catches, 51 yards) for the two-point conversion, giving CM/C a 14-0 lead with 5:28 to play in the game.
Brady Kerkhoff's 65-yard interception run stretches score with 3:37 left in the game
On SWU's next possession, CM/C's Brady Herrig sacked Jass for a nine-yard loss and on the next play, Heiling came up with the Cougars' second pick.
But, the Wildcats soon got the ball back when Mykil Vonk came up with fumble recovery at the SWU 49-yard line.
Wildcat junior fullback Kurt Schmitz ripped off a 13-yard run on a sweep to the left, giving SWU a first down at the Cougars' 38.
Brady Kerkhoff then made the biggest play of the second half when he intercepted a play-action pass by Jass --right in front of the CM/C sideline and sprinted 65 yards untouched to the end zone, giving the Cougars a 20-0 lead with 3:37 left in the game.
Heiling bulled in for the two-point conversion, lifting the spread to 22-0.
Fielding a short kick, SWU lineman Brady Meyer -- who had tipped a pass earlier when the Wildcats stopped one of CM/C's second-half drives -- returned the ball 13 yards to midfield.
But after another CM/C tackle for loss and a pair of incomplete passes, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-11.
With 2:31 on the clock, CM/C's Josh Green effectively sealed the win for the Cougars when he came up his team's fourth pick of the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats did stop the Cougars on downs and created some offensive excitement in the closing minutes as Jass completed a 20-yard pass to Luke Henkels and picked up 11 yards on a quarterback keeper, as SWU worked both sidelines for first downs.
Time, however, expired before the Wildcats could get past the CM/C 36-yard stripe.
Sherman's tipped-pass TD catch highlights first-half action
Field position favored SWU in a defensive-oriented first quarter as both teams had a trio of possessions and each punted three times.
Henkels, who carried the ball 19 times for 64 net yards, had several explosive runs for the Wildcats, who picked up a couple of first downs and looked to be establishing a sound rushing attack.
A pass interception by Erik Jass (two receptions for 13 yards, a 10-yard run on a reverse) early in the second quarter gave SWU the ball at its own 42-yard line, providing the Wildcats with a highlight.
A 15-yard pass play from Riley Kerkhoff to Brady Kerkhoff was one of CM/C's biggest plays -- until Sherman made a remarkable catch of a deflected pass and streaked to the goal line, completing a 43-yard touchdown play with 44 seconds to go in the first half, giving the Cougars a 6-0 edge.
Meyer stuffed the CM/C two-point conversion run, but the Wildcats were unable to move the ball in the closing seconds and the Cougars took a 6-0 advantage into intermission.
Brady Kerkhoff's 42-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter, was followed by a series of power runs by Heiling (76 yards on 13 carries in the second half), but the Wildcats' defense eventually stopped that nine-play drive and kept the Cougars out of the end zone during the entire third quarter.
But -- aided by the four interceptions and the Heiling-fueled touchdown drive -- CM/C changed the game's outcome in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars finished the game with 10 first downs and 162 net yards of offense, getting just 70 on the ground -- as the Wildcats had 10 tackles for a loss themselves during the aggressively-played contest.
CM/C 0 6 0 16 -- 22
SWU 0 0 0 0 -- 0