After getting a 44-yard scoring pass from Luke McCarrell to Garrett Wagner followed by a Branden Steckel extra point with 20 seconds remaining in the first half, it looked like Cardington would enter the locker room tied 20-20 with visiting Centerburg.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, things didn’t work out that way. Sam Backiewicz returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to stake the Trojans to a seven-point lead at the intermission and Centerburg would then blow open the game in the third quarter on their way to claiming a 55-34 win.
“That was my call and it was a bad call,” said Pirate coach Jerry Williams about the decision to kick the ball deep. “Our kicker had kicked a touchback the time before and then the time after. It was one of those things where the returner bobbled the ball and I don’t know if we had a coverage breakdown, but that was a turning point.”
That turning point gave the Trojans the momentum, which they carried into the third quarter. After Cardington got called for holding on their first play of the second half, Sterling Armstrong picked off a Pirate pass to give his team the ball deep in Cardington territory at the six. Three plays later, Armstrong hauled in a Gunnar Gregory pass to make the score 34-20.
The Pirates punted on their next possession and Centerburg quickly struck again, getting a 36-yard run by Gregory to set up a four-yard scoring run by Jacob Rings. Trailing 41-20, Cardington was victimized by another turnover, as Rings recorded an interception which he ran back for a touchdown for the team’s third score in six minutes of play in the third.
The Pirates would fight back, though. After Devin Pearl returned Centerburg’s kickoff to the 35, he took a handoff 10 yards. After a short loss on the next play, Luke McCarrell scrambled for 15 to move the ball into Trojan territory. Shortly afterward, Pearl hauled in a 42-yard pass for a touchdown. Steckel’s PAT made the score 48-27.
Then, at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Cardington got the ball on their 49 after a Trojan punt. McCarrell was sacked on the first play, but then hit Skyler Bowling twice for a total of 17 yards and a first down. After another sack, the Pirates executed a trick play, with Pearl connecting with McCarrell for 27 yards. McCarrell then called his own number and ran 19 yards for a touchdown to make the score 48-34 with 4:42 remaining.
Centerburg would recover an onside kick, though, and put the game away with a 28-yard scoring run by Rings.
“These kids don’t know how to quit,” said Williams. “They’re going to play until the last tick on the clock.”
However, the Pirates were hurt by a number of players unable to take the field due to injury.
“We’re missing five guys and it hurts,” said the coach. “When you’re losing four starters, that’s eight starting position on offense and defense. I’m not taking anything away from Centerburg — we had to play our absolute “A” game to beat them.”
Those injuries were especially felt on defense in the early going, as the Pirates had trouble keeping the Trojan offense off the field. Centerburg opened with an eight-play drive that ended with a punt. Cardington followed with a quick two-play drive for points. McCarrell connected with Pearl for 43 yards and then ran it himself the remaining 25 to stake the Pirates to a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans then had another long drive that ended with a missed field goal. Cardington looked like they might add to their lead, but wound up turning the ball over on downs on the Trojan 35.
Centerburg wouldn’t be denied on their next possession despite committed several penalties. The Trojans were flagged four times for either holding or blocking in the back, but still were able to muster a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Rings scoring on a one-yard dive. Armstrong added the extra point to put his team up by one.
After a Pirate punt, Centerburg then went 65 yards on nine plays, putting the ball into the end zone on a 23-yard pass from Gregory to Backiewicz. Trailing 13-6, Cardington immediately responded with a 50-yard scoring pass from McCarrell to Wagner to tie the score with four minutes remaining in the opening half.
In a fast-paced first half, there would be a lot more scoring in that span. After the teams traded punts, Centerburg got the ball back on their 40. Two plays later, Backiewicz hauled in a 58-yard touchdown pass to put his team back on top.
“That goes back to when you’re missing so many guys,” Williams said about his team’s defensive struggles. “You have guys out of position. I wish we could have played our best, but that’s the game of football.”
Cardington would respond in the final minute with McCarrell’s long pass to Wagner, but after the long kick return, the Trojans held the lead and the momentum going into the break on their way to improving to 4-1, 2-0 in league play. Cardington fell to 3-2, 1-1 with the loss.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS