Archive for Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Fly Route

September 14, 2006

Eleven players played on offense and eleven on defense, but one player stole the show in Eudora's 34-0 Week 2 victory over Central Heights.

The Cardinals graduated so many talented skill position players over the offseason that it was impossible not to wonder how they'd replace them. Matthew Abel went a long way toward delivering an answer Friday night.

Running, catching and returning punts, Abel sparked the Cardinals on offense and provided a steady hand on defense, and showed he has exactly the kind of speed and flash that Eudora will need as its schedule toughens up over the next several weeks.

Abel's emergence early this season is important for more reasons than the obvious though. It's important because it gives opponents someone to focus on.

There wasn't a single "star" offensive player returning this year. There wasn't anyone that made opposing coaches sit down the week before a game and say "how in the heck are we going to stop that kid?"

Abel gives opponents that person, and by giving the rest of the schedule someone to focus on, he ensures the Cardinals can continue to pound away with the real weapon that has made this and every other Eudora football team so dangerous -- the running game.

The junior speedster was at his best against the Vikings. He caught three passes, accounted for 140 all-purpose yards and helped Eudora win the field position game early with a swift end-round run that went for 32 yards.

Later, he broke the game wide open with a dazzling 65-yard punt return for a touchdown, streaking down the home sideline, Vikings eating his dust.

But Abel didn't beat Central Heights by himself. Eudora's running game -- and obviously its yet-to-be-scored-upon defense -- did that.

The senior class in 2005 was stocked with stars, but this year's Cardinals seem to be more tow-the-line workers than razzle-dazzle stunners. Gone is a single running back, but a committee is flourishing.

William Gadberry and Travis Clarke each had big nights against Central Heights. Gadberry averaged better than 13 yards a carry thanks to a long touchdown, and Clarke reeling off a respectable 104 yards on 17 carries. They combined for three touchdowns.

Eudora rushed the ball with ease in its season-opening game, too.

That's how this team will win. With a strong-as-usual rushing game and a defense that could be better than last year's, the Cardinals should cruise for two more weeks before they run headlong into a game at Gardner Edgerton that got a whole lot tougher the moment Marvin Diener opted to leave Salina Central and coach the Trailblazers.

Eudora then has just one game before district play begins and at that point, there are no small games.

I still don't know how these Cardinals will match up against some of the heavy hitters waiting down the schedule. Spring Hill and Baldwin are 0-2, but who actually thinks those rivals won't show up torpedoes a-blazin' when it matters the most? De Soto has played well too, and Eudora has to travel down Kansas Highway 10 this season.

Being able to build confidence with these dominating early-season games will really pay off down the road, but will it be enough?

I don't know. All I know is that the team I watched destroy Central Heights Friday night looked an awful lot like a team I watched roll through its schedule last year -- it relied on a strong defense, it controlled everything with a dependable running game and when it needed a boost, it found a little razzle-dazzle.

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