The Cardington Pirates got off to a strong start at Highland on Friday, but the Scot rushing game proved too powerful in the end in a 45-26 win on Senior Night.
Highland finished with 431 yards in the game — 414 coming on the ground. Dane Nauman led the way with 265 yards and three touchdowns, while Cody Matthews finished with 112 yards and added another score. Eli Grandstaff and quarterback Cooper Merckling combined for 37 yards in the game, with both players also getting into the end zone once.
Scot coach Ty Stover gave the credit to his team’s offensive line, noting that Cardington’s defense was focusing on the run.
“Thank God for our offensive line,” he said. “They had nine in the box and we were still able to run the ball and stretch the field. What else can you ask for? When everyone knows you’re going to run it — what can you ask for?”
However, early in the game, Cardington was able to keep the ball away from the Scots. The Pirates took the opening kickoff and maintained possession for nearly seven minutes. It initially looked like Highland would force a three-and-out, but Cardington went for it on fourth-and-eight from their own 22 and got a 14-yard pass from Nate Hickman to Ayden Plowman.
“These guys…we punted more tonight than we probably have all year,” said Pirate coach Tod Brininger. “I trusted them to get that fourth down and they did.”
From there, the team drove down the field until Hickman called his own number and finished with a 15-yard scoring run. Hickman added a two-point conversion run and it was 8-0 Pirates.
However, it wouldn’t take long for Highland to respond. After a short kick, they took possession on their own 40 and only needed two plays before Nauman scampered 59 yards for his first touchdown. The Scots then picked off Hickman to set up a a 53-yard touchdown run by the sophomore back. Caleb Hunter hit both extra points and Highland held a 14-8 lead late in the opening period.
Cardington wouldn’t let them run away, though. After the teams traded turnovers, the Pirates had the ball on the Highland 23 and were able to convert when they capped a seven-play drive with an eight-yard pass from Hickman to Plowman on fourth-and-goal. The team wouldn’t be able to convert its two-point conversion, though, leaving the score at 14-14.
The Scots responded to Cardington’s game-tying touchdown with a scoring drive ended by a Merckling dive; however, the Pirates immediately struck back when Plowman returned the ensuing kick for points.
Holding a slim 21-20 lead, Highland got a 47-yard run by Matthews to set up a short touchdown run by him to make it 28-20 going into the half.
The Scots would put the game away in the second half thanks to a strong third-quarter performance that saw them add 10 points to their lead. Jay Melchiori opened the third period with a long kick return to set up a 30-yard field goal by Hunter. Holding a 31-20 lead, the team would add a 64-yard touchdown run by Nauman late in the period to open up an 18-point lead.
Cardington would strike back early in the fourth when an 11-play drive was finished by a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hickman to Kalin Briggs that made the score 38-26, but they wouldn’t be able get any closer. Highland recovered their onside kick attempt and drove 44 yards in eight plays, closing out the game’s scoring with a four-yard Grandstaff run.
“Cardington plays their butts off,” said Stover. “We knew it’d be a battle. Last year, they beat us over there. The kids fought through some adversity and rough play and got the job done.”
For Brininger, the challenge is simply to play four full quarters a game.
“That’s been us all year,” he said. “The offense came out and played pretty well and the defense stepped it up in the second half. Number 42 (Nauman) is a good back and they have other good players.”
Hickman threw for 131 yards and ran for 80 more in the game. Denney ran for 23 yards and caught four passes, while Ayden Plowman had five receptions and Briggs, Ashton Plowman and Austin Henthorn all had two.
The Pirate coach has hopes his team is close to putting it all together going into their final two regular season games.
“I know our record (1-6, 0-4 in the KMAC) isn’t the best, but we have been in every game but one,” he said. “They never stop competing, which is a lesson for football and for life, too.”
The Scots currently are 6-2 and tied for Northmor at the top of the KMAC with a 5-0 league record. These final two weeks will be huge for the team, as they play at both East Knox and the Golden Knights.
“We do have two big-time games, but we have to stay the way it’s been at one week at a time,” said Stover.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS