The Wild Card
It’s a shame that one team had to lose Thursday night’s football game.
The Baldwin Bulldogs and Eudora Cardinals battled for four quarters in one of the best high school football games that I had ever seen.
The game featured few penalties and no personal fouls. Both teams played hard-nosed, clean football from kickoff to the final second. The game also showcased two teams that played to their strengths and rode their best player to the very end. It also showed just how crazy and bizarre football can be. Eudora won the football game 35-28 but missed the playoffs by a single point.
“Oh, this game,” said a dejected Eudora coach Gregg Webb after the game.
The back-and-forth game began with both teams throwing punches with its best player. Starting out on the 10-yard line, the Cardinals drove inside the Bulldogs red zone on the legs of Ryan Fisher. Fisher broke runs of 10 and 16 yards on the drive but the Cardinals offense stalled and turned the ball over on downs.
Baldwin’s Sam Beecher moved the Bulldogs offense before the Cardinals forced them to punt. Eudora struck the first blow five plays later on a 60-yard, second-quarter touchdown run by Fisher. Fisher accounted for all five of the plays and all 70 of the yards on the ground. Needing to win by eight points to make the playoffs, the Cardinals attempted a two-point conversion but the Baldwin defense was ready and stopped Eudora short of the goal line.
Baldwin soon countered with a score of its own on an end around by Andy Thurlow. Thurlow darted down the left sideline 59 yards to the end zone and the PAT gave Baldwin a one-point lead.
The Cardinals again punched back using their shotgun offense to run, not pass. Time and again Thursday night Fisher lined up as quarterback and simply took the snap and ran around the edge for big gains.
But Beecher answered Fisher’s score with a 65-yard strike to Brandon Toomer. Fisher had accounted for 223 of Eudora’s 227 total yards. He had 183 yards rushing and 40 throwing but Baldwin had the lead by one point at the half, 14-13.
Eudora answered again with Fisher breaking free for a 24-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a 20-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. Fisher scored the final two touchdowns of his career on runs of 54 and 87 yards in the final period. Eudora connected on a two-point conversion to take a 14-point lead in the fourth.
Beecher, though, matched Fisher’s two fourth quarter scores. And it was his crisp passing to the outside and one-yard touchdown plunge with 21 seconds to play that ended Eudora’s season on a win but on a sour note because it left the Cardinals out of the playoffs.
“After the game I was just shocked and upset,” said senior fullback William Gadberry. “It was just one point. I mean, we beat our biggest rival and to let them come back and score a touchdown it was just real emotional. It was such a tough game.”
After the game, players gathered in the locker room, then walked out winners though many were teary-eyed. Webb said he was proud of his team, even though the win felt more like a loss.
“It’s way better winning 35-28 than it is losing 35-28,” Webb said. “I’m very proud of them. It’s tough to swallow this one but that’s what goes around sometimes.”
Webb closed his year-end speech by telling his players that even though they would not be in the playoffs this year, they should strive to win in the game of life.
“He told us life is more than just football,” wide receiver Christian Richardson said. “He told us that in life we have so much more to look ahead than a football game. It’s more important to be a better person than a football player and I think that was pretty inspiring to most people.”
So even though the Cardinals walked off the field with their heads down, they still won the game that night. And they can take pride in that. even though they will remember that heart-breaking win for a long time.