La Center escapes Seton Catholic with victory in matchup between two undefeated teams
The La Center Wildcats are still undefeated through seven weeks of the high school football season.
How they remained undefeated just might be remembered for years.
In La Center for how the Wildcats managed to come back from a 13-point deficit late in the fourth quarter.
And at Seton Catholic for how the Cougars have arrived, and were oh-so-close to becoming the best team in the Trico League.
“That was pretty wild,” La Center coach John Lambert said late Friday night via phone interview.
After being shut out for most of the game, La Center scored two touchdowns in a little more than two minutes to take the lead. Then the Wildcats had to play defense one more time to keep that lead.
In the end, perennial power La Center got the 14-13 victory, while upstart Seton Catholic proved it belonged among the power players in the Trico League, in Class 1A football.
Seton Catholic, at 6-1 now, has already set a program record for most wins in a season. Even in defeat Friday night, the Cougars made quite a statement.
In the end, though, it was La Center that escaped Seton Catholic with a victory. You know, La Center, the team now with 23 winnings seasons in Lambert’s 25 campaigns, including 13 league championships and seemingly heading to league title No. 14.
Lambert even said before the game that he hoped his program’s experience in big games would help. It sure seemed to aid in La Center’s battle in the fourth quarter.
Lambert said he felt better about the situation when, late in the game, still trailing by 13, senior lineman Ryan Kawalek told the coaches and his teammates that everything was going to be fine.
“It felt like it was just a matter of time,” Lambert said.
The time arrived.
Jalen Ward scored on a short touchdown run with just a little more than four minutes remaining.
Lambert opted not to try an onside kick. His defense was playing well. And his defense rewarded the coach by stopping Seton Catholic in three plays.
The offense back on the field, La Center turned into a quick-strike offense. Quarterback Houston Coyle found Parker McKinney on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 2:04 left in the game. Nate Rembisz, a freshman kicker, was true with the point-after attempt, and La Center had a 14-13 lead.
Lambert said the only problem with taking the lead was that the Wildcats took the lead too soon. Seton Catholic had plenty of time to counter.
Sure enough, a long kickoff return set up the Cougars in solid position, and they drove closer to the end zone. A reverse play that led to a long pass did not fool the Wildcats, though. Coyle, playing defensive back, got the interception in the end zone to preserve the one-point La Center lead.
“We held on for dear life,” Lambert said.
Up until those final minutes, it was a frustrating night for La Center. The Wildcats even tied a football record that can never be broken, a record no team wants to accomplish. The La Center offense had a 98-yard drive but did not score. A team cannot drive any more yards than that without scoring, going from the 1-yard line to the other 1-yard line.
Lambert credited Seton Catholic players and coaches for their performance. Seton Catholic’s defensive coordinator, Mark Greenleaf, used to be the head coach at Woodland.
“We’ve faced each other so many times,” Lambert said. “He had our number tonight.”
Lambert walked off the field impressed with the Cougars.
“Their kids played a very clean game. They didn’t make many mistakes,” Lambert said. “I have high confidence that they are going to make the state playoffs.”
As for his Wildcats, he appreciated how his team maintained its composure. Time was ticking away, and the Wildcats were still trailing. There was no panic.
“They didn’t let their heads get down, they didn’t blame anybody. They had a belief to keep on fighting,” Lambert said. “They could still get there. They could still get there. At the end of the game, there was a sense of relief, a sense of satisfaction. We kept on fighting until the end.”
Photos by Mike Schultz
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