Cards don’t let messy finish spoil season
It's one of the gloomiest days of the football season. Surpassing even the most bitter of windy days and the coldest of fall drizzles. It's a day that signals the end, and Thursday was that day for the Eudora Cardinals.
It was equipment check-in day.
And for nearly every team, no amount of winning can offset the fact that it's over.
"It's the worst day of the season," head coach Gregg Webb said. "Even if you make it to the state championship it's a bad day, because things are over. And it hurts many of these guys because this part of their lives is over."
The ending was made even more difficult for this year's Cardinals as the team gave up their equipment just two days removed from a 44-30 season-ending loss to Louisburg in the Class 4A playoffs.
It was a premature ending to a season that by all accounts should still be going on, but isn't.
The season that ended on a black November night began in the blazing July sun with the first gatherings of the seven-on-seven scrimmages.
The offense began to formulate plays and the passing game began to take shape.
As those days turned into official late August practices, the team was full of hope and looked to go even further into the playoffs than the previous year with some returning weapons on offense, but with questions on defense.
The defense lost size on the line, but was returning some hard hitters in the linebacking corps and the secondary.
When the season opener against Wellsville finally rolled around, it was the offense that fostered some questions.
The passing game couldn't quite gel and the ground attack stalled at times.
The team managed just 12 points in sweating out a win against the Eagles, but managed to double that output in avenging a 2004 loss to Osawatomie. The victory over the Trojans still found the offense to be inconsistent.
After the early struggles, the offense and defense came into focus and reeled off some impressive numbers.
Prairie View, Central Heights and rival De Soto all found drowning beneath an offensive deluge and suffocating at the hands of a powerful defense.
Senior receiver Mark Abel and quarterback Kyle Brouhard connected on a season-long 80-yard strike against the Buffalos.
Eudora ran the Vikings out of Laws Field in the first quarter a week later, rolling up a 61-6 victory.
The Cardinals capped the stretch with a thorough-handling of De Soto. Eudora held a 39-0 lead when the starters left the field.
In a six-game span the Cardinals racked up 244 points, while the defense held the opposition to an average of less than 190 total yards per game.
"We had some concerns on defense as the year began," Webb said. "But we led the league in rush defense so that was a big plus for us this year."
The defense ended the year giving up just 146 points in its first eight games.
But for as much of a plus as the stingy defense was, that span of dominance saw the first of what would be some crucial injuries.
Senior fullback and linebacker James Mills twisted an ankle in the first district game against Santa Fe Trail.
That injury was compounded by an anxious 25 minutes a week later, when senior running back Luke Abel lay on the ground at the half of the Spring Hill game, unable to move from the pain of a broken collarbone.
The injury ended Abel's season and the Cards were forced to move on without their leading rusher.
Junior Max Alvarez, an offensive line stalwart, found his season over as a result of an ATV accident that left his leg broken.
"They sucked it up and went forward," Webb said. "They handled the adversity of those injuries and carried on. They are all a great bunch of kids."
Then came Baldwin.
The team had rolled to an 8-0 record, including two victories in district play over Spring Hill and Santa Fe Trail.
The Bulldogs helped the Cardinals to their worst half of football of the season, marred by an ankle and knee injury to Mark Abel -- who was filling in for his cousin at running back -- turnovers, an inability to move the football in the first half and a 20-0 hole. Baldwin ultimately handed Eudora its first loss of the season, 35-20.
Despite the success of the majority of the season, that defeat had more implications for the season than any previous victory.
"That game was a swing game for us," Webb said. "We played one terrible half of football and that ultimately put us on the road against a comparable team in Louisburg for the playoff."
In what would prove to be the finale of the season, the Cardinal defense finally gave way as the Wildcats put up 503 total yards and 29 fourth-quarter points to end the Cardinal campaign.
"We just had one bad quarter on defense," Webb said. "We gave up 29 points in that game and that was it."
The abrupt ending was a disappointment for all involved on the 2005 installment of the Cardinals.
Twelve seniors played their final games in the Cardinal red and those that will return will have to wait a grueling eight months before the cycle can begin again.
Brouhard turned in another outstanding campaign with 12 touchdown passes and more than 1,300 yards passing.
Upon reflection and as the lights go out at Laws Field on another season, the head coach saw much more than the points on the board and the stats in the book.
"This was a great group of kids," Webb said. "They played with pride and heart the entire year. We had great leadership from our seniors and the chemistry was outstanding on this team. They represented the program and the city very well this year."