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Cats come to life: Score 35 unanswered points on way to first win of season

The Wildcat football team erupted in a big way Friday night in Eau Claire, jumping out to a 35-0 early third-quarter lead on its way to its first win of the season, a 35-16 victory over Eau Claire North.

The Cats (1-1 Big Rivers Conference, 1-3 overall) led 28-0 at halftime before gaining a rolling clock at 35-0 just over two minutes into the third quarter. The Huskies scored the final two touchdowns of the game with the Wildcat starters on the bench.

"It was fun for our team to get a large number of JV players into the game in the second half," Head Coach John Bennett said. "Our starters know that the second and third level players are very important to the success of the team, and it was exciting for all of us to see them get into the game early in the second half after we had built a 35-0 lead."

The Cats jumped on the Huskies right out of the gate, scoring on a 45-yard halfback pass from Shane Hanson to Jesse Elling less than three minutes into the game.

"It was great to see those two seniors stepping up and being playmakers for us," Bennett said. "From that play on our offense moved the ball very effectively. We held onto the ball, took advantage of good field position and controlled the clock."

Quarterback Jon Szatkowski tacked on a seven yard scoring run later in the first quarter before Tony Jenkins scored from seven yards out to give the Wildcats a 21-0 lead just over three minutes into the second quarter. Szatkowski made it a 28-0 lead with a 21-yard touchdown run with 1:48 left in the second quarter to give the Cats a 28-0 halftime lead.

"The team picked up right where it left off in the second half against Hudson," Bennett said, referring to the Cats' comeback effort against the Raiders a week earlier that came up one point short. "We played an aggressive, confident style of football."

The Cats kept pouring it on in the third quarter when Louis Swenson blocked a Husky punt to set up Jenkins' second touchdown of the game from eight yards out to make the score 35-0.

Before leaving the game, the Wildcats' starting defense held North to under 70 yards of total offense. Tom McIntyre led the charge with 12 total tackles, two for loss of yardage, while Hanson picked off a pass and David Webb recovered a fumble.

"You can't ask for a better first half," Bennett said about the play of his starting defense. "North did not get a first down until one minute remaining in the first half. It was an impressive showing by our senior-dominated defense. They have accepted the challenge of being the group that we count on for consistently solid play. With the exception of our first game, they have really gotten it done."

The Wildcat offense was just as impressive, putting up a total of 329 yards of offense, led by Hanson's 142 yards rushing in 16 carries. On the night, the Cats rushed for 284 yards in 44 carries, and Bennett said a big reason was the inspired play of the Cats' young offensive line consisting of Ben Moe, Matt Lubich, Andrew Hennemann, Justin Harsdorf, Ryan Pechacek, Matt Cernohous and Andrew Page.

"On Friday night the offensive line played its best game to date," Bennett pointed out. "They are accepting the fact that our offense will go as they go. What's really exciting about this group is that they can be a whole lot better. They are young and athletic and are just now learning how to work together and to communicate effectively with line calls."

Bennett said Friday night's homecoming game against Superior will provide another challenge that the Cats must answer.

"We now need to improve our play in practice and focus our energies on being 1-0 again this week," he said.