Wildcats fought through injuries to key players to take the game into overtime before succumbing to a solid North County Panthers squad
GARDNER – It was a magical run for the Wilmington Wildcats Pop Warner B Team this season. The team won its third consecutive Middlesex League Championship. They played for their third straight Eastern Mass Conference Championship. They even won their second consecutive Eastern Mass Championship. But unfortunately, the team dropped a heartbreaker game to defending state champs, the North County Panthers by a score of 12-6 on a cold and windy day at the Panthers home field of Gardner High School. The score was tied 6-6 heading into overtime but after failing to score on their possession, the Wildcats gave up a touchdown to North County to end what was an otherwise outstanding game. Injuries finally caught up to the Wildcats as they were without 1,200 yard rusher John Kenney and left tackle Colin Rooney. Linebacker Blake Hiltz returned to action after missing two games with an MCL sprain.
The Wildcats did not score in the first half and went into halftime down 6-0. Although they failed to score, there were some excellent offensive performances in the half. Running back Braden Hiltz, filling in at starting tailback for the injured John Kenney, had 27 carries for 164 yards rushing, a season high for Hiltz who finished the season with 81 carries for 524 yards and six touchdowns. As a team, the Wildcats rushed for 202 yards with running backs Kyle Penney, Blake Hiltz, Peter Marino and quarterback Andrew Sullivan also contributing to the excellent rushing day. Rushing for over 200 yards on the day is only made possible when you have excellent line blocking. The Wilmington line was anchored by Kyle Kenyon, Mark Companeschi, Tommy Strow, Michael and Owen Steen. Wilmington’s second offensive line was also solid on the day with Nick Kullman, Kyle Bolis, Ben Stafford and Pat McAndrew doing a solid job.
There were also quite a few standout defensive performances as well for the Wildcats. Nose tackle Pete Marino had 7.5 tackles including an astounding five tackles-for-loss. Linebackers Joey Dumoulin (4.5 tackles and an interception), and Blake Hiltz (4.5 tackles) were solid for the Wildcats. Corners Mikey Daley (5.5 tackles), Michael Ducharme (3.5 tackles) and Aaron Soto did a great job of shutting down the North County passing attack along with safeties Braden Hiltz and Timmy Rivers. Soto in particular had a great play deflecting a pass at the last moment late in the first half. The Defensive line was led by defensive end Drew Brandenburg (4.5 tackles), defensive tackle Kyle Kenyon (4.5 tackles, two tackles-for-loss) and defensive tackle Frankie Irizarry. Irizarry had four tackles on the day including three tackles-for-loss and a sack on the North County quarterback. Wilmington also had Brett Chisholm, Cam Willis and Michael Smolinsky at defensive tackle and all three did a solid job for Wilmington.
The lone scoring drive came on the Wildcats first offensive possession of the second half. North County had the ball first and the Wildcat defense bent but didn’t break forcing a punt on the series. The Wildcats took possession deep in their own end and started the series with the same group that finished the half. Wilmington got solid blocking from tight ends Sudarshan Swamy and Ryan Brewer on the first two plays of the series, a three yard and a five yard run by Braden Hiltz. On 3rd and 2, Hiltz busted out a 55 yard run. After runs of five and six yards, the third quarter ended. The Wildcats started the fourth quarter deep into North County territory and after solid runs by Braden and Blake Hiltz, Kyle Penney and Peter Marino on the drive, quarterback Andrew Sullivan took it in from five yards out to tie the score at 6-6.
The game became a defensive slugfest at that point with both offenses failing to score in the remaining regulation time. With the score knotted 6-6, the game went to overtime. Wilmington won the toss and elected to take possession of the ball. Starting from the North County 10 yard line, the Wildcats advanced the ball seven yards in three plays and failed to score a touchdown. The Wildcats were without running back Braden Hiltz in the overtime due to a concussion he sustained late in the fourth quarter. After failing to score, North County took possession and scored on a quarterback sweep on third down for the 12-6 victory.
With 12 of 28 players in 8th grade, this collection of young men will never again take the field as a team. It has been an incredible run for the last three seasons. In that time, the Wildcats have an overall record of 29-4 including an astounding 22-1 regular season record and a record of 22-0 against Middlesex League teams. In that time the team has won three Middlesex League titles and an unprecedented back-to-back Eastern Mass Conference Championships. It is only fitting that in the year Wilmington Pop Warner celebrates their fiftieth anniversary that they also celebrate one of the most successful teams in the history of the association.