By Asst. Coach Jim Scalese
What a season the KCC Bearcats had. It’s hard to imagine many people thinking this team had much of a chance at having a successful season after starting 1-4. With four wins during their last five games, things definitely turned around for the Bearcats. This is a team that has shown its mental toughness, been able to overcome adversity many times and had a desire to not give up.
Early in the season KCC was trying to piece things together. Injuries were also plaguing a team that didn’t have the number of players from years past. The coaches kept telling the boys to keep working hard, put the effort in at practice and they would find success. What happened really is pretty amazing and a reason why playing high school sports is special. With their backs against the wall, positive things began to happen.
Late in September the Bearcats went to play the Storm. The result of the game was a 41-6 loss. It was probably the low point of the season. Injuries to some key players and things just not quite clicking made for a tough night, but the spark that would begin to turn the season around was lit. Even with a blowout loss there was encouragement from teammates and a determination to finish the game regardless of the outcome… finish strong was a common saying.
The following week KCC faced another team that would eventually advance to their section final, Norman County East/Ulen Hitterdal. The result was another loss. This time falling 28-0, but anyone that watched this game realized that regardless of the score, the Bearcats were for real. They probably played one of their most physical games from start to finish all season. If not for some unlucky breaks, the score would have been much different. This game would be the game that turned the season. The players could sense that good things would happen if they would continue to focus on the positives and continue with that never give up attitude. It cannot be stressed enough that at this point in the season it would have been easy for them to pack it in. Not only did this team learn an important lesson in playing sports, but also a great life lesson. They learned that regardless of the obstacles, the difficulties and challenges; with hard work, dedication to themselves and team that great things can happen. Nothing comes easy and the 2017 Bearcats learned that. They were willing to put everything they had into finishing the season and see where it would take them.
The next month of the season saw the team winning versus Goodridge/ Grygla. Nearly winning versus Win-E-Mac in a game that went down to the final play and then going on a three game win streak against Clearbrook-Gonvick, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo and finally Kelliher/ Northome.
The Bearcats found their winning way by playing together as a team, determined to fight till the end of each game. Along the way there were some things this team achieved that were fun to be a part of.
The first five games of the season, the Bearcats offense average 5.8 points per game. Over the next five games that average went up to 30 points per game. The offensive line began to overwhelm opposing teams. Up front, Jayden Swenson, Gus Peterson, Cade Langen, Brad Stewart, Cole Johnson and Trent Peterson figured out the offense that Coach Waling had been teaching them all season.
Jesse Stark, who had battled a knee injury for nearly the entire season, was running the ball picking up those tough yards when the offense needed him.
Alex Donaldson had a month that not many running backs in our section have experienced. Over the next month Donaldson would rush for over 1,200 yards and score 14 touchdowns.
T. Peterson and Nick Johnson were able to start connecting on some pass plays that helped to open up the running game and the Bearcat offense was rolling.
Defensively the team also started to figure some things out. During that same five game stretch the defense would cause 14 turnovers.
Guys like Sawyer Billings and Donaldson helped to anchor the team at linebacker and also coming alongside Sophomore Zach Vig who was an important part of the defense down the final stretch.
Rylie Stull found his way onto the field after a slow start to the season and became a sure tackler and also was able to record a few big interceptions.
Travis Rich was solid as a defensive back until he broke his hand but even that didn’t keep him off the field. Determined to help contribute what he could to the team, he played with his casted hand bandaged.
T. Peterson was one of the team leaders in tackles all season. He also managed to have a multi-interception game and returned one for a touchdown.
Reese Steen played safety from start to finish and improved all season. Steen was always tasked with being the last guy to have to make a tackle to keep the opposing team out of the end zone and he accomplished that many times over the course of the season.
The defensive line also became more dominant as the season progressed. Guys like Cole Johnson and Stewart as defensive ends helped shut down offenses, putting pressure on quarterback’s, forcing running backs to rethink running their way. Swenson, G. Peterson, Stark and Langen were the anchors in the middle of the line. They often didn’t get the glory of making the open field tackle, but typically caused enough disruption upfront to allow a linebacker or defensive back to come up and get the credit.
One of the final ingredients to the Bearcats playoff run was the play of Swenson on special teams. Not only was he able to turn the field many times with his punting, but he also became a viable threat kicking field goals. He had multiple games where he kicked field goals, one attempt made was 33 yards. This was all part of a team that was coming together.
After last weeks big Section 8 Semi-Final win versus Kelliher/Northome, KCC would get the rematch they were hoping for. The Bearcats would face off against Stephen-Argyle in the Section 8 Finals down in Fargo. The team would have the opportunity to avenge that early season loss that sort of turned their season around. It was a great accomplishment to make it to the section finals, but that was not enough for KCC. They wanted to win and advance to the State Tournament. They knew it would be a tough task beating a team that went 9-1, but the Bearcats would rely on the things that got them to this game; a team that trusted each other to get their jobs done.
The start of the game was not exactly how the Bearcats had envisioned when the Storm opened up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. KCC did what they had been doing for the past five weeks, fighting and not giving up. They marched back and just about evened the score 14-13 before halftime. The offense was starting to really establish themselves dominating the Storm. The momentum had swung and the Bearcats were rolling. Frustration started to mount for the Storm as they saw their two touchdown lead shrink to one point. The offense was opening holes for the running attack of Donaldson and Stark.
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The second half started with the Bearcats receiving the ball. The first offensive play saw Donaldson run 76 yards for the touchdown and KCC would take the lead 19-14. Things were looking good as all the momentum was on the Bearcats side, but that feeling would not last long as the Storm marched down the field and retook the lead 21-19.
Then a devastating three minutes of football ensued for the Bearcats. First the Bearcats would get a punt blocked but what looked like a break for KCC, they recovered a Storm fumble on the same play and retained possession. The very next play KCC would fumble again and this time the Storm would capitalize, scoring two plays later and extending the lead 29-19. On the Bearcats next possession, N. Johnson hit C. Johnson on a nice tight end dump pass, which Johnson looked to have in his hands only to be ripped away from a Storm defender who would march in for another touchdown. After the three minutes were up, the Bearcats were down 36-19.
With two minutes left in the third and the entire fourth quarter remaining, the Bearcats felt like they had one push left to mount a comeback. KCC had the last drive of the third quarter stall on the Storm 36 yard line, just outside of Swenson’s range to attempt a field goal. Then the Storm took over and was driving, but a great read by Steen deep in the KCC secondary, he intercepted a pass and ran it back to SAC 45 yard line.
On the Bearcats next possession in the fourth quarter, they would march down to the Storm 26 yard line. Johnson tossed a sweep play to T. Peterson. T. Peterson set up for a halfback pass trying to catch the Storm sleeping. C. Johnson beat his defender and was sitting in the end zone, but the ball came up just short and SAC was able to intercept the pass. With the time starting to become a factor and the Bearcat players starting to show they were completely exhausted from the effort put forth; they continued to play hard. They held the Storm out of the end zone one last time and gave the offense one more possession.
For Donaldson, this would be the end of his day. He gave it everything he could, finishing the game with 296 rushing yards, 124 return yards and three touchdowns.
This was a good chance to allow some of the younger Bearcat players a chance to experience playing in a section final game. Guys like Matt Stewart, Maurice Sele, and Daniel Gonzalez got some much deserved playing time. These guys helped the starters all season by running scout teams during practice. Some of the Bearcat players that were hurt earlier in the season but managed to come back and help during the playoff run also found themselves back on the field on last time. Gunner Klein, Josh Rynning, and Gabe Vagle all got back out there.
Seniors Estel Jaszczak and Zach Johnson who had important roles this season on special teams and also filling in when needed also got a chance to finish the game. All these guys from seniors to freshmen, were unselfish. They were asked many days to hold pads and run opposing teams offenses and defenses. All these guys were vital parts of making this team what is was this past year.
Speaking on behalf of all the coaches of the Bearcat football team this year, we can not express how proud we are of all the boys that came out and played this year. What they were able to accomplish will be something as coaches, we will remember for a long time. As players they have made memories that will last a lifetime. The lessons they have learned will be carried with them long after their days of playing football for KCC. I would also like to thank all the parents of the team. Without your support, the team would never have been able to accomplish the things we did this year. To the fans that travelled all season to cheer on the Bearcats and ending in Fargo, thanks for your support. You all helped make this season special.
KCC 0 13 6 0 19
SAC 14 0 22 0 36
SAC_Hunter Yutrzenka 35 yard pass Stoene Spilde (Kick by Collin Neuschwander, blocked)
SAC_ Spilde 30 yard run. (Yutrenka pass to Kyler Szczepanski, good)
KCC_Alex Donaldson 24 yard run. (Kick by Jadyn Swenson, good)
KCC_Donaldson 24 yard run. (Kick by Swenson, no good)
KCC_Donaldson 76 yard run (Nick Johnson pass to Trent Peterson, no good)
SAC_Joston Hoeper 15 yard run. (Kick by Neuschwander, good)
SAC_Kyler Szczepanski 18 yard run. (Yutrenka pass to Ashten Safranski, good)
SAC_Pass Interception by Spilde (Kick by Neuschwander, good)
By Asst. Coach Jim Scalese