Pictures By: Lydia Schembre
This past Friday the Cardinal Ritter Football Team traveled to Speedway High School to take on the rival Sparkplugs in a huge Indiana Crossroads Conference showdown. The weather was perfect, the team was ready, but looked depleted as the Raiders only had 18 players at their disposal for safety reasons. That didn’t matter as Cardinal Ritter’s talent won out and kept the West Side Trophy for another year winning 28-21, in an epic battle for the ages.
The talk all week was about the Raiders depleted roster and the questions about their ability to pull out the win came immediately. How were they going to win with minimal players? What are they going to do? The trash talking was all over social media as Speedway felt like this was their time to take advantage of Cardinal Ritter’s situation and come out with a win. The Sparkplugs are a talented bunch of players and they can put up points in bunches and “on paper” the Raiders looked like their backs were against the wall, but there still is the old expressions, “that’s why you play the game,” and “quality over quantity.” The boys in Silver, Black and Red went out and played to win the game and still had their studs available at the opening kick.
Speedway was set to receive but the Raiders tried an onside kick that was touched early. This gave the Plugs the ball with good field position to start the game but they initially couldn’t do anything with it. They gave the ball to the Raiders which they in turn, gave it back as neither team could get their offense going from the start. Then Speedway connected on a rare miscommunication by the CRHS defense for a long bomb and a score to put them up 7-0.
On the next offensive series the Raiders could only muster one first down as newly inserted quarterback, Justin “Powder Keg” Browder connected with “The Enforcer” Austin Sultzer. The Raiders were forced to punt the ball away after that and on third down, Speedway threw another long bomb all the way to the 7 yard line. Speedway scored shortly after on a third and long with a quarterback keeper to leave the Raider Nation stunned as their team was now down 14-0. After the score, the Cardinal Ritter offense stalled again and was forced to give the ball back down by 14 at the end of the 1st quarter.
This could have been the “knock out punch” the Plugs were looking to give the Raiders early, but the “Pirates of the Pigskin” have been down before and they never quit. The air was starting to get cooler and as we all know the “Autumn Wind is a Raider… they’ll knock you down and upside down, (More to follow later)” and the good guys did just that. They stuffed the Speedway defense and were getting the ball back. After two formation penalties, the Plugs punted the ball and still kicked it down to the Raiders 24 yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage, #6, Ashton “The Round Mound of Touchdown” took the ball on a power play for a first down. The Raiders had been feeding him the ball early and the box was stacked and there wasn’t much yardage gained before this particular play. But, it is only a matter of time until “RMOT” starts doing damage and softening up the defense which he did. On the next play, Browder called his own number and ran a quarterback keeper for 45 yards down the Raiders sideline. A couple of plays later, he rolled to his right and found Sultzer in the back of the end zone for Cardinal Ritter’s first touchdown of the game. After the Ben Valle extra point was good, the score was 14-7.
On the ensuing kick-off, Valle gave the Plugs a squib kick that was tough to handle. Once the Speedway runner finally controlled the ball he was met with a violent collision from Jordan Johnson and Gavin Crooke, setting the new tone of the game. Speedway was met with a second and long and Antwann Dix came through with a big sack. On the next play, Dix pressured again and the Sparkplug quarterback threw the ball up where Troy Wilson came down with the ball for the pick. He lateraled the ball to Johnson who picked up some more yardage. After a penalty on the play, it brought the Raiders back to midfield with the ball.
The early turnover gave Speedway’s defense little time to recover from the last drive and the “Beefy Buccaneers” led by Aaron “Rhino” Roberts and company feasted. On the first play they gave Hall a hole that he blasted through for a first down. On the next play, the O-Line sealed the edge and Browder took it around them and out ran everyone for the next score as he left like Superman into the end zone. After the next Valle extra point was good, the Raiders squared the game up at 14 with 2:47 left in the half, a score that remained as the two teams went to intermission.
Cardinal Ritter received the ball on the next kick and after no gain on the first play, Crooke was handed the ball on a misdirection play up the middle which he raced towards the end zone, shook off a would be tackler and scored to put the Raiders up 21-14.
The Raider defense locked up Speedway on the next drive and forced a 3 and out. On the next offensive series, Hall took the first play for an 11 yard run and a first down. With the Sparkplug defense tired from trying to take down the load that is “The Round Mound of Touchdown,” Cardinal Ritter saw a chance for a chunk of yards. On the next play Browder rolled to his right and on the run, threw a strike to Sultzer who caught the ball on a corner route. After running through his defender, Sultzer ran the ball into the end zone for a 60 yard touchdown pass. Valle connected again to put the Raiders up 28-14.
The Raider defense was locked in as they were smothering the Sparkplug offense. They were so locked in in fact that the Plugs receiver caught a quick hitch that two defenders collided into the runner from opposite sides. The force from the tacklers bounced each other off the runner who ended up running loose for a 60 yard touchdown to make it a game again.
On the next drive the Raiders fumbled it away to Speedway with great field position. The Raider defense was ready for the challenge as they bent to the 7 yard line without breaking and stopped the Plugs on 4th down on the ten to get the ball back for “Hall Time.”
On the first play from scrimmage, #6 ran the ball for 8 yards. Followed by another long run to put it at first and 10 from the 27. Two plays later, another chunk of yards for “RMOT” as he ran through another open hole and knocked defenders down for first down at the 40. The Raiders had a 3rd and short that Browder almost converted and on 4 and inches, Hall’s number was called again as he powered through the D-Line for another massive gain. Unfortunately, there was a penalty on the play and the Raiders were forced to punt the ball. The returner caught the ball and was laid out by a charging Crooke.
Speedway had decent field position but on 2nd and 5, Isaac Jzar stripped the ball from the quarterback and Hall recovered on the 47 yard line with 7 minutes to go in the game.
The Raider Nation felt like a victory was coming, but there was still plenty of time on the clock. After a couple of penalties, Cardinal Ritter was faced with a 3rd and 18. Browder rolled to his right again and hit Johnson to pick up the first down on a deep pass down the right sideline.
A couple plays later, the Raiders were forced with a 3rd and 6. Hall and the “Beefy Buccaneers” had won the battle of the trenches and Coach Hunt called for them to go to work again. Browder handed the ball to Hall as he ran it to the right side behind Roberts for anther first down to the 16 yard line with under 3 minutes to go. Hall ran the next play for 4 more yards and the Raiders were set up to score again and put the game out of reach but a later penalty brings the Raiders back to 3rd and 20 on the 25 yard line which they could not convert.
On fourth and 14 with 1:18 left, the Raiders decided to attempt a 38 yard field goal. After a play clock gaffe, the officials threw a mysterious flag that pushed the Raiders back and out of field goal range which forced a punt.
This was crunch time and anything can happen in rivalry games. Could Speedway pull out a win like Cal in ’82 or the Music City Miracle?
On the first play from scrimmage Dix got threw the defense and swatted the pass away. The ball stayed up in the air, but no one saw it to intercept it so it fell to the ground with 1:11 left.
Second down brought another pass that was overthrown and almost intercepted by Crooke that brought it to 3rd and 10 with 1:07 left.
On the next play, Speedway picked up the first down for an 11 yard pass with 1:01 left.
Speedway was building momentum and it was up to the Raiders stout defense to squash it.
First down was incomplete and second down saw Speedway get flagged for an illegal procedure call to make it 2 and 15 from the 32 yard line. On second down, Cardinal Ritter locked down all defenders and saw another incomplete pass come their way. On third down, Speedway completed a pass to make it 4th and 1 with less than 40 seconds to go.
As the clock kept ticking, Speedway completed the next pass for a 1st and 10 from the 49 yard line.
Tick, Tick, Tick, play one was incomplete leaving 23.3 left on the clock