Going into the half, Cardington held a slim 8-6 lead over visiting Highland in their season-opening football game.
And then, what had merely been a driving rain turned into a full-blown storm, with lightning causing the second half to be delayed for close to two hours. When the teams returned to the field, the Pirates would take advantage of some big plays to pull away for a 30-14 win.
“The kids, they’re different this year,” said first-year head coach Tod Brininger of his Cardington squad. “They’ve bought into what we’re trying to see. Last year, we had a two-hour delay and we came out flat. This year, we came out fighting.”
The Pirates opened the third quarter by forcing a Scot punt. Taking the ball on their own 39-yard line, they would then methodically drive down the field, turning a 13-play drive that ate nearly six minutes off the clock into a four-yard touchdown scramble by quarterback Nate Hickman.
Two big plays during that drive did not leave Highland coach Matt Jones pleased. Facing fourth-and-eight from their own 46, Cardington went for a fake punt and Hickman scrambled for eight yards and a first down. Later in the drive, it was fourth-and-13 from the Scot 16. A Hickman pass was incomplete, but a pair of Scot penalties, moved the ball to the four to set up the touchdown.
“We had a break and they came out and we didn’t,” said Jones. “We have to play. We made too many mistakes tonight on both sides of the ball. It was not a good night for us.”
After scoring, the Pirates got a two-point conversion, as Hickman ran it in to make the score 16-6. Things would then get worse for the Scots, as they couldn’t handle a short kick and Cardington immediately regained possession at the Highland 40. Passes to Trey Brininger and Ayden Plowman moved the ball to the 22 to set up a 15-yard scoring pass from Hickman to Gabe McConnell.
Throughout the game, Brininger often utilized onside kicks and went for it on fourth down. He said part of that play-calling simply is rooting in having faith in his players to make the most of any situation they find themselves in.
“You know me from softball, I’ll take risks,” he said. “They return that confidence in me. I trust our kids to step up when they’re put in a bad position.”
Trailing 22-6, Highland needed some offense and they would get it at the 7:22 mark of the fourth period. After starting on their 42 and getting passes from Kaden Johnson to Layton Shaffer and Chase Ray to get to the 27, Johnson connected with Landon Remmert to cover the rest of the ground. Johnson then added a two-point run to bring the Scots within eight at 22-14.
Highland needed a defensive stop to have a chance to complete the comeback, but Cardington had different plans.
The team started from the Scot 37 after an onside kick attempt didn’t work out and were able to take advantage of another pass interference call to turn a third-and-20 to a third-and-five at the 19. Brininger ran the ball to get the first down and later hauled in a 16-yard pass from Hickman to score the clinching touchdown. Hickman’s two-point run accounted for Cardington’s final two points of the night.
Jones simply felt his team needs to execute better.
“We kept drives alive with penalties and we didn’t execute offensively,” he said. “We were not consistent.”
On their first drive of the game, Highland took the ball into the Pirate red zone, but a turnover ended that drive. However, they did hold a field position advantage until they were able to turn that into points late in the opening quarter.
Starting from the Cardington 39, they got three scrambles from Johnson to get to the 26 and then the quarterback connected with Remmert to take a 6-0 lead.
Cardington would strike back, though, going 80 yards in 12 plays. Brininger caught three passes from Hickman on the drive, earning gains of 43 and eight yards before scoring on a seven-yard reception.
Offense would be hard to come by for either team over the final eight minutes of the half due to a heavy rain, but after the lengthy halftime, Cardington would take control of the contest.
Johnson completed 14 passes for 166 yards and also ran for 31. Remmert caught five passes for 59 yards, while Landyn Albanese had three for 55.
“We’ve got to prepare for Fredericktown,” said Jones. “We’ll watch film, regroup and hopefully get our mistakes corrected.”
Hickman threw for 284 on 23 completions and ran for 49. Joe Denney ran for 40 yards. Brininger had eight catches for 103 yards, Ashton Plowman had four for 95, Ayden Plowman had four for 35 and McConnell had four for 27.
Brininger said his team was simply happy to have the opportunity to play after a summer of uncertainty.
“We’re thrilled to be out here on Friday night,” he said. “We were on pins and needles. They know it’s one play at a time and one game at time.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS