The 2016 installment of the Cardington-Mount Gilead series more than lived up the expectations one would have for a game between two long-time rivals.
The two teams dueled for the entire 48 minutes with Cardington escaping MG’s field with a narrow 35-34 win to capture their first league contest and improve to 3-1 on the year.
With the score tied at 28 early in the fourth quarter, the Pirates got good field condition after a fake punt gamble didn’t pay off for the Indians. Taking the ball on the MG 28, Cardington was able to quickly convert on a fourth-and-seven when Luke McCarrell hit Garrett Wagner for 11 yards.
On the next play, McCarrell connected with Scott Osborne for 13 to set up a one-yard scoring play by running back Christian Huffman. Branden Steckel’s extra point put the Pirates up 35-28 with 6:30 to go.
The Indians took the ensuing kick to their 31 and promptly started moving down the field. After getting to their 27, Tyler Bland connected with Mason Mollohan for 21 yards to get into Pirate territory. After two running plays lost a total of five yards, Jonah Barnett took the ball 19 for a first down and then 18 for the score.
Unfortunately for MG, they would be unable to convert on the extra point. A Cardington blocked kick was negated by an illegal procedure penalty on the Indians and then, on their second, longer attempt, an errant snap led to the Pirates regaining the ball and a one-point lead. The offense was able to run out the final three minutes to preserve the win.
“These kids won’t quit and they’ll do what they have to do to make plays,” Pirate coach Jerry Williams said of his team. “They’re a good football team and we were playing with a MASH unit at the end. People stepped up and made plays.”
While he wished his team came out on the other end of the decision, Indian coach Jason Ross was pleased with his team’s effort throughout the game.
“I told them they don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” he said. “It hurts because they put their hearts on their sleeves.”
Ross’ team struck first in the game. After forcing a quick Pirate punt, they took the ball on their 30 and drove the field in 12 plays, getting a short score from Barnett and a point-after kick from Scott Page to take 7-0 lead eight minutes into the game.
It wouldn’t take long for Cardington to tie the score, though, as McCarrell hit Devin Pearl on third-and-11 for 63 yards and a touchdown to tie things up at 7-7.
“We are a big-play offense,” said Williams, who added that he has a lot of experienced seniors at the skill positions on offense. “They’re seniors and guys we can count on. When we have to answer, we answer with one of those talented guys.”
Cardington wasn’t the only team able to score on big plays, though. Early in the second quarter, Mount Gilead had a one-play drive, as Barnett took the handoff and went 80 yards for the score — the second of five by the Indian senior on a day he would go for 347, earning plenty of praise in the process.
“Jonah’s a player,” said Williams. “He did a great job and their offense is very consistent.”
Ross added, “He’ll be the first to tell you that our offensive line is playing so hard. They put 10 in the box, but I had faith in them and Jonah played hard.”
Mount Gilead would fail to convert a two-point conversion after that score, though, and Cardington would quickly drive down the field to take the lead. Pearl took the kick to his team’s 47 and a 19-yard run by Huffman moved them far into MG territory, setting up a 28-yard scoring pass from McCarrell to Wagner. Steckel’s PAT put the Pirates up 14-13.
By the half, it would be 21-13. Mount Gilead got into the red zone on their next possession, but a 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Both teams would then trade punts, with Cardington then taking the ball on their 42. Daniel Kill completed a halfback pass to Pearl for 28 and McCarrell hooked up with Wagner for 15 to move the ball to the MG 15. Two plays later, McCarrell found Pearl for another touchdown to give the Pirates an eight-point advantage going into the intermission.
That lead would not hold up in a disastrous third quarter for Cardington. After MG received the opening kickoff, a 61-yard run by Barnett moved the ball into the Pirate red zone. Cardington’s defense would stand, as they forced a turnover via downs. However, they got the ball on their seven, were forced to punt and had an errant snap, leading to a short McCarrell gain that gave the ball to MG on the Pirate six.
This time, the Indians wouldn’t squander their opportunity and scored on a short dive by Barnett. Bland then hit Mollohan for a two-point pass to tie things at 21. Williams noted that his team was repeatedly hurt by penalties, which hindered their attempts to mount a drive.
“I don’t know what the penalty battle was, but it seemed one-sided,” he said. “It was what it was and these guys persevered. Whatever the Indians did, we responded.”
Cardington would bounce back to score early in the fourth quarter, though. An 18-yard run by Huffman moved the ball to the Indian 46 on the second play of the quarter. McCarrell would pass to Osborne for 15 and then call his own number for a 17-yard run. Osborne then ran for 14 yards to put the ball in the end zone. Steckel’s point-after tied the score with 10:08 remaining to set the stage for the thrilling finish.
After losing to Ontario last week, Williams was pleased with how his team responded.
“Any time you come off a loss, you have to win next week,” he said. “We won our rivalry game on the road in the league opener — we’ll take it.”
For Ross, the key will be to rebound from the disappointing loss.
“We just talked about how we can still achieve all our goals,” he said. “Just like any other setback in life, we’ve got to learn from it and get better.”
While Barnett’s 347 yards rushing was the most gaudy stat on the night, several athletes on both teams had big games. Bland completed six passes for 104 yards, with Mollohan catching three for 62 and Young added two for 37. For the Pirates, McCarrell threw for 163 yards on eight complettions. Pearl finished with three catches for 106, while Wagner added three for 54. McCarrell also ran for 68 yards, while Huffman tallied 48.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS