CARDINGTON — If Cardington head coach Tod Brininger wanted to test his team’s response to adversity, he got multiple opportunities Friday night.
In a game that featured sloppy play — the Pirates getting 135 yards in penalties to the Comets’ 95 — the hosts persevered and prevailed 20-16.
“What a game. They played their butts off. We played ours off. That game should come down to the last play,” Brininger said.
Two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a strong defensive stand proved the difference as Cardington goes to 1-1 and Elgin slips to 0-2.
“It was a heavyweight battle in the middle of the ring … we were just slugging each other. Luckily we had the ball last,” he said.
“A couple of the penalties, our right guard got a couple trying to protect our guys. In games like this, if we cut those down and we drive the ball a lot better and I think we score a lot more.”
The game was deadlocked at 8-8 with 10:05 to play when Joe Denney bulled his way in for his second TD of the night, this one from 22 yards.
He had opened the game with a 4-yard burst to put the Pirates on top 8-0. That capped a 68-yard, 9-play drive.
Exactly 5 minutes later Elgin responded with a Cy Starcher 59-yard score. The two-point conversion run by Kevin Kline put the visitors ahead 16-14.
But a blocked punt sealed the game.
Mason Kinter, a 195-pound senior linebacker, returned the ball 20 yards for the game winning touchdown with 2:24 remaining.
Brininger said his defense was prepared for the block.
“We watched their punts and we knew we had a chance. Especially after the first one it almost went over his head and one was low. We knew we could get one. We wanted to save it until the biggest spot in the game and he made a heck of a play on it,” he said.
But Elgin had four shots to score from the 4-yard-line with all 3 of its timeouts. A holding penalty on the Comets pushed them from the Cardington 2-yard-line to the 7 and the Pirates held on for the win.
“We talked about relentless before the game … never, ever give up and that’s what they did,” Brininger said. “They ran it in there and we stuffed them a couple of times. We drop a pick and then make a great play at the end.”
Elgin head coach Zack Winslow knew his team missed out on several chances to win.
“As a head coach, our execution wasn’t there. We had opportunity after opportunity to take control of this game and we didn’t. We score and we get a holding call. We score and we get a block in the back. We get our punt blocked. It’s execution across the board,” he said.
Starcher led the Comets with 9 carries for 129 yards rushing and two scores.
Denney had 80 stripes on 14 tries and quarterback Nate Hickman 99 on 17 rushes.
He was 9-of-17 for 72 yards passing with one interception. Ashton Plowman had 4 catches for 29 yards.
The defense was spearheaded by Eli Huffman with an interception and 5 tackles, Ashton Plowman with 5 stops and Denney and Zane Everly 2.5 each.
Despite just 7 seniors on its roster, the Pirates showed resolve.
“We’ve got a few senior leaders that are really good leaders. Our junior class is strong, and we are playing a lot of sophomores and a couple freshmen.
The Pirates go on the road Friday night to play Colonel Crawford. They were victorious 49-14 over Smithville to push their record to 2-0.
“We’ve got to keep building. It’s cutting down on the mistakes,” Brininger said.
“So we will look at film and get ready. Colonel Crawford is a really good team.”