The moment where Highland seized the momentum from Cardington at home during Senior Night on Friday came early.
The Pirates opened the game by getting a kickoff return for six points from Garrett Wagner, but that play was called back by penalty, giving Cardington the ball deep in their territory. On the first play from scrimmage, Highland’s Jarin Vasquez picked off a Daniel Kill pass and ran it 24 yards for a touchdown. Brody Matthews added a two-point conversion run and the Scots led 8-0 very early in a contest they would win by a 62-10 count.
“Literally, once we got the ball started, it just kept rolling,” said Scot head coach Chad Carpenter. “It was great to see the seniors finish their last home game like that on senior night.”
Cardington’s first actual drive of the contest ended on a three-and-out and Highland took possession on their own 26. After getting a first down, a penalty pushed the Scots back to their 32; however, Reese Weissenfluh hit Isaiah Stoneburner on a deep pass and the junior receiver took the ball the rest of the way for a 68-yard score to make it 14-0 with 6:50 left in the opening period.
After punting again, Cardington’s defense made a play, forcing a fumble and regaining possession at the Scot 27. While the team’s offense stalled, junior kicker Branden Steckel came through big, sneaking a 48-yard field goal through the uprights to put his team on the board.
It wouldn’t take long for Highland to respond, though, as they immediately went 65 yards in six plays for a score. Josh Cantrell got things moving with a 26-yard run and Vasquez also tallied a 26-yard run — his for a touchdown. Cantrell ran for the conversion and the lead was 22-3.
A 13-yard run by Daniel Kill followed by a 12-yard carry by Gavin Hurt moved the Pirates to the Scot 30 on their next drive, but a penalty, two sacks and a loss of six on a completed pass pushed them all the way back to their own 30 for a fourth-and-50 situation.
“I thought the defense played extremely well,” said Carpenter. “We were able to get a lot of guys in during the second half.”
For Cardington coach Beau Wolford, that drive might have summed up Cardington’s night.
“We’re getting plagued by injuries and penalties, which have held us back the last few weeks,” he said. “We’re not capitalizing when we get ourselves in good situations.”
Among those injured players was sophomore running back Mason Goers, who had provided over 1000 yards on the ground. The coach noted that his absence left a definite hole in the offense.
“We have younger guys stepping up and taking on that role, but right now, don’t have that breakaway speed Mason has,” said Wolford.
The Scots continued to add to their lead in the second quarter, getting a 77-yard scoring run by Brody Matthews and a 56-yard pass from Weissenfluh to Stoneburner to lead 41-3 at the intermission.
Highland opened the third quarter with a 37-yard touchdown run by Cantrell to move in front 48-3 and then would add two more scores behind the work of their reserves. Garison Hankins tallied a five-yard touchdown and back-up quarterback Kadin Johnson hit Landon Mattix for a 44-yard score.
Cardington would finish the night’s scoring with a 64-yard scoring run by Ty Landon in the waning seconds of the contest.
Carpenter had plenty to be happy about in the win, from watching his younger players contribute to his team’s lead in the second half to observing his seniors in their last regular-season home game of their careers.
“It’s an important time for them,” he said of his seniors. “Looking at how they interact with each other, it’s a special time.”
Both teams have differing goals entering the final two weeks of the regular season. For the 2-6 Pirates, it’s to get guys healthy and try to finish the year on a positive note.
“We have to eliminate mistakes and get healthy and prepare for our last two games at home,” said Wolford.
Highland, who is 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the league is now in the driver’s seat in the KMAC race after East Knox suffered its first league loss against Fredericktown. Those same Bulldogs will host the Scots this coming Friday in game with huge ramifications in the title race.
“It’s a huge game next week,” said Carpenter.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS