The Wildcats’ 77-game losing streak came to an end Wednesday night as they beat winless Northern Freeze 14-0 in the regular-season finale in Laporte.
The last time the Wildcats won a game dates back to the 2005 season when they crushed host Fond du Lac 41-16 on Sept. 30. Laporte finished the season 1-8, but over the next several years they would go either 0-8 or 0-9 if they had a playoff game.
There were also two years where Laporte bused a couple of varsity players to WHA to be part of the Wolves’ team, and a few years where they just had a JV squad.
To make the win even more special, it was Parent’s Night, so there was a good crowd to take it all in and witness what these young men having been working for all year. For some players it has been a five-year wait to finally be able to celebrate a victory.
After the game there were lots of tears of joy shed by both players and parents. The chain gang — all former players — was also invited into the celebration huddle after the game.
Coach AJ Dombeck said it was like winning the Super Bowl.
“It was an emotional night for a lot of people. We’ve been telling the guys it’s going to take a lot of work and it could be awhile before we get our first win,” the coach said. “The guys have worked hard the last couple of seasons to get here, and it was worth it. They finally got to see some success.”
Right from the beginning of the game, Laporte set the tone on both sides of the ball.
“The guys came out with a mind-set that this game was going to be different,” Dombeck said. “Once they got the lead, they weren’t going to give it up.”
Noah Reimer scored the first touchdown on a 26-yard pass from Isaiah Johnson as Laporte drove 75 yards on the opening possession of the game.
Devon Lafriniere hauled in passes of 20 and 24 yards on the drive. It was only after the Freeze put a second defender on Lafriniere that Johnson found Reimer in single coverage.
The second score came on the second play of the fourth quarter as Wyatt Johannsen found a hole and made the right read to score on a 17-yard run. He also ran in the conversion.
Laporte also had a good opportunity to score before the half as they drove inside the 10, but ended up turning over the ball on downs.
Johnson completed 9-20 passes for 143 yards with Lafriniere catching six for 92 yards. Reimer had two receptions for 33 yards and Gibson Smith one catch for 18 yards.
Johannsen led the rushing attack with 58 yards on 10 carries, Caleb Howg had 14 carries for 50 yards and Johnson three attempts for eight yards. Johannsen also had a 15-yard return on the opening kickoff.
The Wildcats’ defense easily played their best game of the season, picking off two passes, deflecting a handful of others, forcing and recovering a fumble, and twice stopping the Freeze in the red zone.
“Our pass coverage was just on another level. The guys worked hard all game long,” the coach said.
Dombeck also lauded the efforts of linebackers Howg and Johannsen, a freshman and junior respectively, for having the defense play smart.
Lafriniere intercepted both passes, Chris McDougall — who along with Vinnie Taviana are the only two seniors on the team — batted two passes down at the line of scrimmage, and Justin Clyde had three pass deflections. Clyde also caused the fumble that Smith recovered.
Johannsen led the team with 18 tackles, Smith had 15, Howg 12 and Reimer 11.
The special teams was also exceptional. McDougall’s 52-yard punt was the second longest of the season. The coverage was also great as Laporte did not give up any return yards.
After Laporte took a 6-0 lead, the Freeze marched deep into Laporte territory. The drove stalled at the 10-yard line.
The second time was in the fourth quarter with Laporte leading 14-0. The Freeze turned the ball over on downs at the 17.
“Once the guys got the lead they weren’t going to give it up. The defense stood tall,” Dombeck added. So did the Wildcats as they celebrated their first victory in 14 years.