SWU clinches share of clown
HERON LAKE -- Sticking with their smash-mouth mentality Friday night, the Southwestern United Wildcats clinched a share of the Southwest Ridge Conference football title with a 34-13 victory over Westbrook-Walnut Grove.
SWU is now 7-0 and can win the title outright with a victory over Lincoln HI/Lake Benton Wednesday in Brewster. W-WG (5-2) hosts Cedar Mountain/Comfrey in its regular-season finale.
"This is a huge accomplishment for these guys," SWU co-head coach Jeff Drent said following the game. "Our offensive line kept punishing their defensive front, and we made big plays at key times."
The game's biggest play came midway through the fourth quarter, just after W-WG scored to cut the Wildcats' lead to 20-13.
On third-and-four from their own 48-yard line, the Wildcats received a game-breaking play from their workhorse, senior tailback Alex Leopold (41 carries for 268 yards).
On a sweep to the right, Leopold gained enough yardage for a first down, but he wanted more. Busting several tackles, Leopold went all the way for a 52-yard touchdown sprint with 7:46 left in regulation. Octavio Jimenez added the PAT, and the Wildcats led 27-13.
"We'll give the ball to Alex all day," Drent said. "He's done it all year for us, and that play really kind of broke the game open."
The Wildcats sealed the victory by forcing a three-and-out, before driving down to the Chargers' 8-yard line with just over two minutes left to play. However, Jake Wahl recovered a Leopold fumble, and W-WG still had a chance.
But after an incomplete pass, W-WG's Brian Theisen was hit by Bill Blumberg while attempting to make another pass. The ball popped up in the air, and Blumberg intercepted it to get the Wildcats back in business, at the 2-yard line.
Quarterback Lon Eichenberger plowed into the end zone from there, as his touchdown plunge -- and Jimenez's ensuing PAT with 2:01 left in the game -- made it 34-13.
W-WG tried to come back again, but Riley Van Westen intercepted Theisen near midfield, and the Wildcats took two knees to end the game.
"Our defense really got after it tonight," SWU co-head coach Jason Fisher said. "We made stops when we needed to, and each time they did score, we came right back with a score of our own."
The game started with SWU's defense making things happen, as Riley Pohlman recovered a Wahl fumble on the Chargers' first play of the contest.
Starting at W-WG's 45-yard line, the Wildcats drove in for the game's first points with 7:51 left in the opening quarter.
On his ninth carry of the possession, Leopold scored on a 2-yard touchdown burst. Jimenez's kick was no good, and the Wildcats led 6-0.
SWU's defense also set up the next touchdown of the game, as Trevor Leopold blocked Joe Doubler's punt on fourth-and-19 from W-WG's 31-yard line.
Blumberg pounced on the loose ball at the 21-yard line, and the Wildcats increased their lead on the very next play.
Shaun Mathias galloped on a reverse around the left side before evading tacklers and streaking into the end zone for a touchdown. Alex Leopold dashed in for the 2-point conversion, and SWU led 14-0 with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
Late in the second quarter, the Chargers' defense came up with a pair of stellar plays to set up a scoring opportunity.
First, Jace Jarmer sacked Eichenberger for a loss of 15 yards, and then Doubler spilled Mathias for a seven-yard loss on another reverse to force the Wildcats to punt on fourth-and-long.
Getting the ball at their own 36-yard line with 1:29 left before halftime, the Chargers marched down and scored on Theisen's 15-yard touchdown pass to Doubler with 10 seconds showing on the clock. Wahl's PAT was good, cutting the deficit to 14-7 at halftime.
SWU then opened the second half by eating over six minutes off the clock and increasing its lead to 20-7 with 5:39 to play.
The 65-yard drive was highlighted by a trio of eight-yard bursts by Alex Leopold, and a spectacular 22-yard passing play from Eichenberger to Lloyd Kalfs.
On fourth-and-eight from W-WG's 23-yard line, Eichenberger was chased out of the pocket, as he scrambled all over the backfield before finding a wide-open Kalfs on the right sideline near the end zone.
Kalfs made a sliding catch before falling out-of-bounds at the one-yard line, where Josh Olson scooted in for a touchdown on the next play. Jimenez's kick was no good, leaving the score at 20-7.
"That play was huge," Fisher said. "We wanted to come out strong to start the second half, and that play helped us get in the end zone."
W-WG scored to make it 20-13 with 9:28 left in the fourth quarter as Prestin Parker's punt return gave the Chargers great field position at SWU's 21-yard line.
A pair of strong runs by Wahl preceded Theisen's second touchdown pass of the game -- this time to Jarmer from six yards out. Wahl's PAT was no good.
Three plays later, Alex Leopold busted loose for his 52-yard touchdown jaunt, and the Wildcats were on their way to the victory.
Blumberg charted 11 tackles to go with his interception and recovery on the blocked punt. Tyler Stenzel also had 11 tackles for the Wildcats, while Josh Kruger had eight tackles and a sack.
Theisen finished the game with 100 passing yards on an 11-for-25 night. Parker caught five passes for 40 yards, and Wahl rushed the ball 16 times for 53 yards.
W-WG 0 7 0 6 -- 13
SWU 14 0 6 14 -- 34