It was a frustrating game for the Milaca football team that led to an upsetting end of the season for the Wolves.
Jumping out to the strong start and leading 14-0 in the Minnesota State High School League’s Class AAA State Quarterfinals versus New London-Spicer, the Wildcats scored the contest’s last 18 points to rally for the victory over Milaca.
“Something just clicked for them and not for us,” said senior lineman Hunter Bockoven on the game. “It was a tough game. Both teams put out there all. It sucks that we couldn’t come out with the win.”
In the chilly and windy conditions played on Nov. 10 at the neutral site of Elk River High School, the Wolves came out swinging against the Wildcats, looking to avenge a regular season, one-score loss to New London-Spicer.
Defensively, the Wolves opened the contest by getting a big stop on fourth down after a 12-play opening drive by the Wildcats that stalled on fourth and seven at the Milaca 17-yard line as a pass fell incomplete by the opponent.
Given the chance to break the ice with the game’s first points, senior running back Jack Schoenborn sparked the Wolves’ offense, like countless times over the past couple seasons. Schoenborn broke off a 69-yard sprint to the end zone to push the Wolves ahead 7-0 following the point after attempt by Braden Hanson.
Milaca’s defense stood tall on the next two Wildcats possession as the Wolves stopped New London-Spicer and made sure an interception did not turn into points, as a sack by Jack Nord kept the game at 7-0 and forcing a punt with 11:52 to go in the first half.
The punt by New London was then blocked by Milaca, recovered by Logan Timmer at the Wildcats 35 yardline, putting the Wolves in prime position to add to their lead. The Wolves again rode Schoenborn as the senior capped a six-play drive with a 2-yard plunge up the middle for the 14-0 advantage in the state clash.
From that 14-0 lead, the two team traded empty possessions before the Wildcats got the ball back with 2:54 to go in the opening half. A big 43-yard passing play on third and nine cut the lead to 14-6, putting New London on the board. The score held into the half.
After dominating defensively for nearly the entire first half, that one long play really hurt the Wolves, said Milaca coach, Craig Talberg.
“It was frustrating because in the first half, I don’t think my defense could have played much better. They got one big play that scored a touchdown,” he said.
Back for the second half, Milaca and New London each possessed the ball to no avail as the score remained the same into the fourth quarter, though a big fourth and six loomed for the start of the fourth quarter for the Wildcats.
From the Milaca 21-yardline, New London again completed a long pass to creep even closer to the Wolves. A pass batted away by Peyton Hunt kept the Wolves ahead by two on the 2-point attempt.
Now at 14-12, the Milaca offense once again could not get rolling, forced to punt.
Continuing to get their running game going, the Wildcats marched down the field for the go-ahead score to make it 18-14 with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter. Milaca’s ensuing possession saw the Wolves go three and out.
Going back to the ground game, the Wildcats drained a chunk of the remaining clock, forcing Milaca to burn critical timeouts before finally getting the stop on a fourth and five.
New London’s ability to get the running game going in the second half loomed large, said Talberg.
“We knew they were a good running team so I didn’t expect to hold them down all the time but that second half, it felt like they dug deep and got those four to six yards a carry and it was frustrating because we couldn’t get that key stop to get the ball back for our offense without having to waste all our timeouts,” he said.
With the ball back in their possession with just over 2:30 left in the game, Milaca’s offense was stifled by the Wildcats, as a fourth and 15 passing attempt by Greninger fell incomplete. Getting a first down on the ensuing New London drive, the Wildcats went into victory formation to seal the win and end the Wolves season.
After scoring 14 points in the first 14:38 of the game, the Wolves were shutout offensively for the next 33:22. A change on the defensive front led to the stark contrast in offensive production, said Greninger.
“They switched up their fronts and made some plays when they had to,” he said.
Schoenborn finished with 159 yards and two scores, aided by Greninger as the quarterback had 26 yards on five carries. Greninger completed three of 13 passes in the loss. Bryce Mehrweth paced the defense, leading the team with 6.5 tackles while Clay Anderson and Bockoven combined for 11.5 tackles between the pair.
Milaca finished the year at 9-2 with both losses coming to New London-Spicer.
Now entering into the offseason, the Wolves will say goodbye to a large senior class that helped the program to just its second state appearance and first since 2010.
“I’m so proud of the guys and the community. It was a fun season,” said Talberg.
18 Wolves will graduate from the team, including Schoenborn, Greninger, Anderson, Nord, Hunt and Bockoven.
Greninger, despite ending on the low note, will always cherish the run the Wolves made.
“I love these guys with all my heart. These are my brothers out here and I had a blast playing with them. I love every one of them, we’re a family out there,” he said.
New London-Spicer advanced to take on Watertown-Mayer in the Class AAA Semifinals, hosted at U.S Bank in Minneapolis on Nov. 19.