By Travis Mounts
The Cheney Cardinals made a statement in their playoff opener last Friday, jumping out to a 48-point lead in a 48-14 victory over the visiting Clearwater Indians.
The game could not have started any better for Cheney – or any worse for Clearwater – as the Indians fumbled away the ball on the first play after the opening kickoff. The Cardinals Jack Voth recovered the fumble, and four plays later he caught an 8-yard pass from Harrison Voth to give Cheney a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Turnovers defined the start of this game, as the teams combined for four turnovers in the game’s first four minutes. Voth picked off the Indians on their next possession, giving Cheney the ball in Clearwater’s half of the field.
The Indians’ defense stepped up, nearly sacking Harrison Voth, who scrambled and threw toward the end zone where Clearwater’s Trent Hastings picked off the pass.
But Cheney got the ball three plays later when Hudson Ditgen picked off a pass and returned it to the 2-yard line. Quincy Thomas ran it in to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead.
Cheney continued to score with ease throughout the opening half. Luke Grace made a diving catch in the front corner of the end zone. Carson Middleton gave the Cardinals another interception late in the first quarter, setting up an 11-yard touchdown run by Grace for a 28-0 lead before the quarter ended.
The Cardinals scored two more times in the second quarter. Grace caught another touchdown pass, this time from 11-yards out, and Harrison Voth found Dayton Higgs open for a 23-yard touchdown. Cheney went into halftime leading 42-0.
Cheney head coach Shelby Wehrman said his Cardinals were not trying to send a message. They were simply focused on the game at hand, and Clearwater’s early turnovers helped Cheney grab a big lead early.
“It seemed like every time we turned around, we got another turnover,” he said. He added that Harrison Voth’s early interception was not much different than a punt, so the damage to the Cardinals was minimal.
“We just wanted to play good football. I felt bad for Clearwater’s kids. Things weren’t going their way,” Wehrman said.
Cheney slowed things down to open the third quarter, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock to engineer a 70-yard scoring drive that was capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Voth to Grace. It was Grace’s third scoring reception of the game and fourth overall. Voth finished the game 17-for-24 for 217 yards, with four touchdown passes and an interception.
Clearwater struggled the entire night to get its offense going. The Indians had just eight first downs for the entire game, which was just one more than Cheney’s number of touchdowns. Cheney had 400 offensive yards to 151 for Clearwater.
The Indians had receivers get behind Cheney’s defense on a handful of occasions, but they struggled to connect on most of them. Clearwater did manage a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Tyler Fugarino hooked up with Hastings on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Fugarino also ran in for a 2-yard touchdown with just over three minutes left in the game.
For the Indians, they experienced a worst-case scenario at the start of the game.
“That’s not how any of us coaches envisioned the game going,” said Clearwater head coach Jimmy McDowell.
The coach said he wants his seniors to keep things in perspective.
“This is the beginning of their story. Hopefully, they have long, properous lives in front of them,” he said.
He told his younger players to get ready to work hard.
“There’s a lot of improvement we need to get done before next season,” he said. “The players saw what needs to take place to build long-lasting success.”
In the end, McDowell said, Cheney was simply the better team.
Cheney’s Grace finished the night as the game’s top receiver, with 143 yards on 10 receptions. Voth had three catches and 32 yards. Thomas added 26 receiving yards, and Higgs had 25.
Thomas ran for another 92 yards on 13 carries. Harrison Voth added 46 more. Freshman quarterback Josh Burdick came into the game for Cheney during the second half and went 4-for-5 for 16 yards.
Clearwater’s Fugarino engineered two scoring drives for the Indians. He finished 11-for-26 with 137 yards. Nick Warren was the Indians’ top pass catcher, with six receptions for 49 yards.
Cheney finished the game with 241 passing yards and 159 rushing yards. Clearwater passed for 137 yards but ran for just 14 yards.
Clearwater finishes the season with a 3-6 record, losing four straight after starting the season 3-2. The Indians’ last four games were a brutal stretch that included No. 1 Andale, No. 2 Cheney and then-No. 3 Collegiate.
Cheney to face Collegiate
The Cardinals looked like they wanted to make a statement during their win over Clearwater – not to the Indians, but to the Collegiate Spartans. Collegiate visits Cheney this Friday.
Cheney’s undefeated 2020 season came to an end during the second round of the playoffs with a 15-point home loss to the Spartans.
Now comes the rematch. Collegiate has fallen in the rankings. CatchItKansas.com moved Cheney to No. 2 and dropped the Spartans to No. 3 in its Week 7 rankings, before Collegiate suffered its only loss – a 29-6 loss to No. 1 Andale. Catch It Kansas now has Collegiate at No. 5 in its final regular season poll, as did Kpreps.com. Varsity Kansas put Collegiate at No. 4.
Cheney finished the season at No. 2 in all three polls.
Wehrman said the Spartans lost some linemen from last year’s team but continue to look strong. They have improved since the teams saw each other at the preseason jamboree in Cheney.
For the Cardinals, the top defensive priority will be containing Collegiate’s quarterback. If the Cardinals can control the line, it will go a long way toward a victory.
On offense, Cheney needs to hang on to the ball. Turnovers have been an issue at times.
“When we don’t turn over the ball, we do a lot better,” Wehrman said. “We don’t punt often. It seems like we’re either scoring or turning the ball over.”