MOUNT GILEAD — Cardington coach Tod Brininger is no stranger to post-season play, having guided his softball teams into the state tournament on several occasions.
Following the Pirates 28-6 win over rival Mount Gilead Friday night, Brininger quickly turned his sights to Lancaster Fisher Catholic, who they host in a Division VII first-round playoff game.
“I’ve already watched four of their games on YouTube.” he said. “We are going to break down film Saturday, see what we did right and wrong and meet on Sunday afternoon to put our plan together.”
“Obviously this is the first playoff game in our history. I think we earned it. We wanted to be in the top eight in our region.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Pirates struck first with a 10-yard slant from Nate Hickman to Trey Brininger that made it 6-0 with 8:28 to go in the first half.
Hickman hit on three pass completions for 61 yards on that drive, including a 46-yard toss to Zach Lester. He had two catches for 61 yards.
Joe Denney rambled 13 yards for another score to put the visitors (3-3) on top 12-0 at halftime.
“We were moving the ball. We had big, big plays called back.”
Cardington was flagged with nine penalties for 90 yards.
“Whenever you play Mount Gilead it’s always a tough game regardless of who’s up and who’s down. They’re scrappy. Missing two weeks hurts them, but we knew we were in a battle,” Brininger said.
Coming off tough losses to East Knox and Highland, the Indians (0-4) refused to quit.
“I thought our effort was tremendous. We battled from start to finish. I can’t overstate how proud I am of their ability to battle,” head coach B.J. Trainer said.
Playing just their fourth game, the Indians had to overcome penalties and turnovers.
Brininger’s second TD came with 7:52 left in the third quarter on a 13-yard run. He added the two-point conversion catch for a 20-0 Cardington lead.
Hickman connected on 11-of-18 passing attempts for 170 yards and one score. Denney carried 14 times for 63 yards and a TD. Ashton Plowman had four catches for 56 yards and Brininger six for 51.
Freshman quarterback Elijah Chafin started for the Indians in place of the injured Carter Kennon.
“Elijah is doing a good job. He’s getting his baptism by fire, so to speak. Obviously the game’s a lot faster than what it was in junior high or JV-wise. He made mistakes, but everybody made mistakes tonight,” Trainer said.
Chafin scored the Indians lone touchdown, a two-yard run with two minutes left in the third period.
“He’s going to have opportunities to make big plays for us in the future. He had some real nice runs for us in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter. He brings a lot of his talents to the game.”
He completed 11-of-24 passes for 67 yards. Andy Williamson had eight carries for 54 yards. Matthew Bland had five receptions for 35 yards.
The final score came with 50 seconds left in the third when Lester returned a Mount Gilead fumble 86 yards. That came after Indians linebacker Chuy Rubio stripped a Cardington ball carrier of the pigskin to end a drive.
“We just keep saying when we get our first win it’s gonna be pretty darn sweet.” Trainer said. “Every game we’ve made mistakes that hurt ourselves, penalties, turnovers, mis-alignments or blown assignments. We got better from a week ago and we’ll keep getting better,” Trainer said.
Mount Gilead, seeded 24th, will play on the road on Saturday against ninth-seeded Lore City Buckeye Trail, Region 23 of Division VI.
“We get an extra day of practice. We’ll do our walk-through on Friday instead of Thursday.”
The Pirates had 354 yards of total offense to the Indians 169 and led in first downs 17 to 11.
Brininger wants his team excited to be in a playoff game.
“I want to jump right into that and have them feel it. I tried it the other way and the nerves go crazy by game day. This is our next step in this program.”