By ROB HAMILTON
In a dramatic overtime contest, Cardington outlasted Highland 31-24 to put themselves in position to win at least a share of the Blue Division title in football this season.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Pirates trailed 21-14. To compound their issues, on the first play of the period, they turned the ball over on downs at the Scot 31. Highland would then drive down the field, looking to increase their advantage. Five carries by Dakota Bunting, one by Alex Wright and a pass from Max Schreiber to Dylan Tuggle moved the ball to the Pirate 32.
Bunting would then carry for seven more yards and a face mask penalty against the Pirates placed the ball on the 12. However, two consecutive holding calls moved the team back and they would eventually surrender the ball after a failed attempt to convert on a fake punt from the Cardington 36.
It wouldn’t take long for the Pirates to make them pay, as Luke McCarrell connected with Trey Williams for 11 yards and then hit Devin Pearl for a 50-yard score. Branden Steckel tied the game with a successful point-after kick.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Pirates after that play led to the Scots getting a short field, starting at midfield. However, the Cardington defense came up strong and would sack Schreiber on fourth down to take possession with three minutes to go at the Scot 42.
A 20-yard pass to Daniel Kill on third down placed the Pirates in the red zone, but their drive stalled at the 13. Steckel would come up big for Cardington, though, drilling a 30-yard field goal to put his team up 24-21 with 38 seconds to play.
Highland got the ball on their 35-yard line and immediately went backwards as, after an incomplete pass, Schreiber was sacked for an eight-yard loss. The junior signal-caller would bounce back to hit Tuggle for 12 yards and then went back to the same receiver for a play that turned into a 48-yard gain down to the Pirate 13.
After the play had ended, the clock hit zero and Pirate players ran onto the field to celebrate, but it was determined that two seconds still remained and, since the clock stops on a first down, the Scots had time for one more play. This led to Satchel Denton running onto the field and picking up a clutch 30-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
If the Scots had the momentum going into the extra period, it didn’t last for long, as Cardington got first possession and immediately scored McCarrell handed the ball to Kill, who connected with Pearl on a successful halfback pass. Trailing 31-24, Highland’s possession ended as soon as it began on a Pirate interception which sealed the win.
“That was a program win,” said Cardington coach Jerry Williams after the contest. “They ripped our hearts out there. We thought it was over and they told us to line back up. These guys have more heart…they’re an awesome team to coach.”
Williams felt a big key to the win was his team’s defense, which stopped Highland on fourth down six times in the game, including once from the Pirate three-yard line.
“I have to give my defensive staff all the credit in the world,” he said. “They put together a great game plan and the kids came through with it.”
On the other sideline, the way the game ended stunned the Scots, who’d entered the game in sole possession of the Blue Division lead, but now are in a three-way tie with Cardington and Fredericktown.
“That was a good ball team,” said head coach Chad Carpenter. “They played well. We had chances to win and just didn’t.”
The game was back-and-forth the entire way. After stuffing the Scots on a fourth-and-one in their own territory on the game-opening possession, Cardington wasted no time in getting on the board as McCarrell hit Kill for a 30-yard touchdown.
Later in the period, the Scots struck back with a big play, as Schreiber hit Bunting on a pass that the back took 94 yards to the end zone to tie things up at seven. It would remain that way until the opening play of the second quarter, when McCarrell pitched the ball to Scott Osborne, who took it 33 yards for a touchdown.
With under two minutes remaining in the half, Highland tied things up with an eight-play drive featuring another long pass play from Schreiber to Bunting, this time for 30 yards. Andrew Davis would take the ball the final two yards and the game would to the half at 14-14.
Disaster nearly struck the Pirates in the third quarter, as they went three-and-out, which was followed by the Scots blocking their punt and getting the ball on their eight. Bunting would run the ball down to the one on first down, but Cardington held firm on three straight plays to force a key turnover on downs.
Highland would win the field position battle in the third quarter, though, which eventually led to them taking the ball on the Pirate 43 after a punt and getting a long scoring run by Bunting to take a seven-point lead.
That advantage would not hold through the fourth quarter, though, and Kill’s halfback pass in overtime would finally put Cardington in front to stay. Williams noted that his team practices plays like that for the right situation.
“They put a lot of pressure on us and came off the edge hard,” he said. “You hold it (that play) in your back pocket for the right time.”
With one week to go in the regular season, both the Scots and Pirates still have a shot to win at least a share of the league. Cardington will have to win at home against Fredericktown, while Highland will have to claim a road win at Fredericktown.
“We’ll try to regroup tomorrow and re-gather our confidence,” said Carpenter. “We have one left and it’s a big one.”
The Pirates also have a chance at the playoffs in Division VI. They currently are barely out of the top eight in Region 21, making their game with the Freddies a must-win for both teams’ postseason hopes. With both a division title and potential playoff berth on the line, Williams expects his team to be ready for next week.
“The kids have been talking about this all year,” he said. “We have to beat Fredericktown and they’re a good team.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS