With just two wins in its previous seven games, it would have been easy for the Cardinal football team to pack it in after trailing host Richmond Heights by two scores at halftime on Friday.
Instead, the Huskies rallied for 21 straight points in the third quarter then went on to beat the Spartans in overtime, 40-34.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this year and so has Richmond Heights,” said Cardinal coach Eric Cardinal. “We were pretty resilient and determined and we stuck with (the game plan) and shut them down in the second half to claw our way back into it.”
Trey Shirkey, who ran for 89 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Huskies, opened the game with a 3-yard scoring run to give the Huskies a short-lived 7-0 lead.
Richmond Heights pulled to within 7-6 on a 1-yard run by Ronnell Flowers but Cardinal responded with a 55-yard touchdown pass from Matt Carney to Crossland Robinson to take a 13-6 lead.
Carney went on to complete 5-of-11 passes for 103 yards with Robinson hauling in two of those throws for 74 yards.
The Spartans scored three straight touchdowns to 26-13 at the break.
“We saw a lot of film on them and we knew they were pretty good in flashes,” Cardinal said. “We saw them early on give Kirtland a lot of trouble and they gave some other people a lot of trouble. We knew they were explosive, especially in space, so we didn’t want to get into a basketball game with them going up and down.”
Down two scores, Cardinal stuck with its game plan and it paid off.
“We had to get a stop and go down and score,” Cardinal said. “We got the stop and marched down the field, but we didn’t score. We did that a few times.”
Cardinal finally was rewarded for its patience when Shirkey added his second touchdown run, a 1-yarder, to pull to within 26-20 of the Spartans.
Cam Klepper then added an 11-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 27-26 lead and Brice Hogue pushed it to 34-26 with his 2-yard third quarter score.
“We played a deliberate game,” Cardinal said. “We wanted to go down and be fundamental and run a play, then line up and run another play and get positive yardage every time and put it in the end zone. We did that a few times in a row.”
Hogue’s touchdown run was set up by a 59-yard punt return from Dario DeCaro, who filled in at safety and receiver for two injured Huskies.
“He had a touchdown-saving tackle and a few plays later they punted it to us and he brought it down to the red zone and we punched it in,” Cardinal said.
Douglas Hooks threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Sincere Mills and Mills added a two-point conversion run to tie the game at 34-34 late in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies had less than a minute to pull out the win in regulation but opted to finish off the Spartans in overtime.
“I said, ‘Look, we’ve got a minute left. We’ll either get it now or in overtime, either way, we’re going to stop them and we’re going to punch it in,’” Cardinal said. “We ran out of time in regulation but we were able to stop them in overtime, we won the toss and went on defense, and then we put together a five-play drive where we ran off tackle and punched it in.”
Shirkey scored on a 5-yard run in overtime to seal Cardinal’s win.
“It was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced in my life,” Shirkey said of the game-winner. “We went in at halftime down, 26-13, but we stuck with it. We came out the second half and outscored them, 27- 8, and won it in overtime. Our defense came up with big stops to let our offense drive down the field. Our line blocked everything up and it was easy to hit the holes. Matthew Carney came up with the interception on one time to give our offense the shot to win it. It was a complete team effort and a team win.”
The Huskies, who improved to 3-6 on the year, host rival Berkshire in Week 10. The Badgers enter the game with a 1-8 mark.
Throw out the records, the Week 10 matchup has always come down to which team wants it more.
“It’s going to be a dogfight because it’s always a dogfight,” Cardinal said. “Obviously, we have to do what we can to stop them and see what we can do on offense.”