By Travis Mounts
A key defensive stop on a 2-point conversion and a last-minute touchdown helped the Cheney Cardinals to a 40-34 win over the Halstead Dragons in Friday’s home Class 3A football playoff.
The victory keeps the Cardinals’ record unblemished at 9-0. Cheney will be home again this Friday for a game against the Collegiate Spartans, a team with a long history of playoff success in 3A and 4A.
The first of two big moments late in the game came with 2:43 to play in the game. The Dragons had just scored to tie the game at 34 as they lined up for a 2-point try. The Cardinals’ defense swarmed Lakin Farmer short of the goal line, preserving the tie.
That may have taken some pressure off the Cardinals, knowing they if they didn’t score, they could at least run out the clock and force overtime.
Instead, they retook the lead and made it nearly impossible for the Dragons to respond.
Harrison Voth completed big passes to Dayton Higgs and Luke Grace. Then after an ill-timed false start penalty that put the Cardinals in 2nd and 13, Voth broke free for a 36-yard run deep into Dragon territory. With time nearly gone and Cheney at the 8-yard line, Voth found Higgs open to his left at the 2, and he spun past a defender for the go-ahead score, 40-34, with 22.1 seconds left.
After the kickoff, Halstead – a team that runs nearly every play – had to go 69 yards in less than 20 seconds. The Dragons attempted just 12 passes all night, three on the final drive. Three incompletions and a sack later, the Cardinals were celebrating.
Cheney won despite four turnovers, including three interceptions and fumble.
“The defensive line, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen kids so exhausted after a game. We couldn’t have won without them. They battled their hearts out,” said Cheney head coach Shelby Wehrman.
Halstead put together two good scoring drives to erase Cheney’s 26-14 lead. Farmer scored on a fourth-down run in the third quarter, trimming the Cardinals’ lead to 26-20. Cheney’s Blake Molyneux made the tackle to keep Halstead out of the end zone on the 2-point conversion.
Things got a bit sloppy after that. Higgs delivered a big return on the kickoff but Cheney lost the ball on an interception. The Cardinals’ defense then held on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter deep in their own end.
But they fumbled the ball a couple of plays later, putting Halstead in business at the Cheney 13. Three plays later, Halstead scored a touchdown and Farmer’s easy 2-point run put the Dragons up, 28-26.
Cheney came back on the next drive, helped by two huge Halstead penalties for pass interference and targeting. Cheney took advantage and regained the lead with a touchdown from Voth to Grace with 6:41 to go. The duo also hooked up on the 2-point try to go ahead 34-28.
Halstead struck early off a Cheney mistake, as the Dragons picked up a Cardinal fumble for a scoop-and-score touchdown and an 8-0 lead. Cheney answered quickly with a touchdown drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Harrison Voth to Marcus Peintner to make it 8-7. Still in the first, Halstead scored again but failed on the 2-point try, leading 14-7 after one quarter.
Voth and Luke Grace connected twice in the second quarter on touchdowns of 6 yards and 4 yards to give Cheney a 20-14 halftime lead.
The Cardinals went ahead 26-14 in the third quarter on a 6-yard touchdown by Garrett Jacobs.
Cheney passed for 237 yards and ran for 188. They held Halstead to 303 yards, with 225 on the ground.
Luke Grace had 135 receiving yards on 13 catches with two scores. He was expected to be the Cardinals’ top receiver until Logan Bartlett blossomed as a pass catcher this season. Now the focus is on Grace, and he delivered a 13-for-13 performance on Friday.
“Luke is a special wide receiver. I would have liked to have gotten him the ball more earlier in the season but Logan was grabbing everything,” Wehrman said.
Peintner had 40 yards and a score, Higgs had 30 yards, and Jack Voth stepped in with 41 yards on three catches. Voth was 23-for-35 with 255 yards.
Voth did as much damage with his feet, running for 168 yards on a team-high 16 attempts.
Cheney never punted against Halstead, but the turnovers are a concern heading into this week’s home game against Collegiate (8-1). The Spartans’ lone loss was a 43-13 defeat against Andale. They beat Pratt 50-0 last week.