The big break: Cardinals stay undefeated with big win over Gardner Edgerton
It wasn't a match up of two undefeated teams or a pair of 2005 playoff foes butting heads again, but the buildup and anticipation surrounding Eudora's Friday night trip to Gardner was hard not to notice.
Rare is the game that can live up to such hype, but then rare is the feeling the Cardinals enjoyed after the 40-36 victory over the Gardner Edgerton Trailblazers. In a game that truly measured up to the expectations fans had established, Eudora protected its undefeated record with an Austin Hoover interception with just 19.9 seconds remaining in the game.
"There were about 500 momentum shifts in the game," coach Gregg Webb said. "Austin Hoover did some great things. He's hard-nosed, and he's a player who shows what great effort can do. He's not very big and not very fast, but he is tough. He's big-time for us."
The game got exciting in the second half, but it looked like Eudora could be on the way to another romp early in the first.
Junior Matthew Abel took a pass 21 yards for a touchdown on the Cardinals opening drive and a successful two-point conversion gave Eudora an 8-0 lead with seven minutes, 31 seconds remaining.
Eudora extended the lead even further when it converted on a Blazer fumble. Hoover recovered the ball and several plays later Ryan Fisher scored the second Cardinal touchdown. After another two-point conversion, Eudora had Gardner by the neck, 16-0.
Gardner coach Marvin Diener made serious waves in the Kansas high school football world during the offseason when he ditched his Class 5A state champion Salina Central Mustangs to lead the Trailblazers fledgling program, and it didn't take Gardner long to prove why his move was such a big deal.
Blazer Ben Adams smashed through the Cardinal defense and ran for a 51-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to bring the score to 16-8.
Eudora would put one more score in the end zone before half -- senior quarterback Kent Swanson connected with Mike Ortega -- but after the break, things got tense.
Just minutes into the half, Adams again scored his second touchdown. Another successful two-point conversion brought the Blazers within eight points.
The Blazers got even closer when Ross Ditch caught a 29-yard pass and took it into the Eudora end zone, but a failed pass on the conversion attempt left the Cards clinging to a 24-22 advantage.
"Being in games like this really builds character," Webb said. "We really showed we can hang together and make plays when we really need to."
Hoover showed a bit of that character as he came up big again. He scored his first of two touchdowns with a one-yard run. After Abel caught a Swanson pass for another two points, Eudora temporarily had a little breathing room again.
Temporarily being the operative word -- Adams scored his third touchdown of the day with a 78-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kickoff. Gardner kicked instead of going for two, and pulled within three points, 32-29.
Moments later, Eudora trailed for the first time all season.
Blazer A.J. Fruits casually brought the football into the Cardinal end zone on a one-yard scoring run with 10:32 in the fourth quarter.
In a game that was as back-and-forth as they ever come, it was Eudora that got the final few bounces.
Junior Chad Krutz intercepted the ball at the Gardner three-yard line and Hoover scored to put the Cardinals back in front. Minutes later, with the Trailblazers driving to attempt to take the game back, Hoover's interception finally ended the game.
"I am so hard on them in practice to try to simulate the intensity of an actual game, and they really work hard," Webb said. "I love every one of them and am so proud of them."
In all, the Cards had 209 total rushing yards, 70 of which were contributed by junior Travis Clarke.
Webb said he was extremely proud of the team's efforts in what was the toughest game all season.
"Because of how hard we push the kids, we like to see them succeed," Webb said. "They just do an awesome job and they really are a great bunch of kids."