Miscues at the wrong time led to the downfall of the Wildcats in their football home opener Friday as Columbia Falls fell to Whitefish in a hard-fought contest, 17-14.
The Bulldogs converted a number of key fourth-down plays in the second half on their way to building a 17-7 lead, but the Wildcats fought back and had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. Columbia Falls trailed 17-14 with 20 seconds to play with the ball on the Wildcats’ 20-yard line when a Mason Peters pass intended for Brayden Stone was picked off by Whitefish’s Jaxsen Schulach to end any chance of a comeback.
Columbia Falls finished with 186 yards of total offense to Whitefish’s 239 as untimely penalties and mistakes kept the Cats’ offense from finding a rhythm, including an offsides on a long kick return and a timeout on a PAT with only 10 players on the field.
“We are a really young team and we are just making crucial mistakes at the wrong time right now,” head coach Jaxon Schweikert said. “The kids are battling. They are working hard and we are getting better and better, but we just made a couple of mistakes at the wrong times.”
Whitefish had gotten on the scoreboard first in the second quarter on a one-yard run by quarterback Flynn Ridgeway with 10:43 to play and the Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead into halftime. Columbia Falls tied the game on their second play of the second half with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Peters to Cade Morgan and a PAT kick by Niels Getts.
Whitefish returned the ensuing kickoff to the Wildcat 34 yard line to set up another scoring opportunity. A last-second play on a ball in the end zone by Stone saved a touchdown and Finn Coleman sacked Ridgeway to push the Bulldogs back later in the possession, but Ridgeway found Devin Beale from 13 yards out to put the Bulldogs up 14-7 with 5:20 to play in the third quarter.
Whitefish converted on a fourth-and-four play on its next drive, leading to a 24-yard field goal by Shculach to push the Bulldog lead to 17-7 with 1:41 remaining in the third.
“We just couldn’t seem to get them off the field in third down situations. It didn’t matter if it was third and 15 or what, they came up with the plays. They won that battle,” Schweikert said. “When you have a chance to get an offense off the field, you have to do that. We had trouble doing that and it kept our offense off the field.”
The Wildcats answered with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Peters to Isaac Balla with 9:55 to play that cut the Bulldog lead to three at 17-14.
The Bulldogs converted another fourth-down play on their final possession of the game, but Balla picked off a Ridgeway pass at the goal line and returned it to the 20 to set up the final play for the Wildcats.
Peters finished 10 for 20 passing for 142 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions and added another 39 yards on the ground as Morgan led all Wildcat receivers with five catches for 90 yards. Balla rushed seven times for nine yards and caught a seven-yard touchdown pass, Stone caught two passes for 30 yards, Brad Nieves caught one for 10 yards and Jaxon Heinz had one reception for five yards.
With the loss, the Wildcats fall to 1-2 this season. They will take on the 3-0 Loggers in Libby Friday.
“We really think we can win against Libby, but I’m not sure what we are going to get from game to game right now,” Schweikert said. “We can be up or down, but I think at the end of the year we will be able put things together and be playing good football. We just have to keep working hard.”