By Travis Mounts
The Cheney Cardinals got off to a quick start in last Friday’s regional football game in the Class 3A playoffs, but the visiting Southeast of Saline Trojans outscored the Cardinals 20-7 in the second half to get the victory in a battle between teams with unblemished 10-0 records.
The Cardinals got the start they wanted, driving 66 yards on the game’s opening drive and scoring on a pass from Harrison Voth to Logan Grace for a 7-0 lead early in the game.
Cheney’s Holden Murray then corraled the ensuing kick to give the Cardinals the ball inside Southeast territory. The kick was not a deliberate onside effort. Rather, the Cardinals used a squib kick to keep the ball out of the hands of the Trojans’ gifted deep receivers, and the Trojans were caught unprepared as Murray ran into the heart of Southeast’s defense to get the ball.
A 32-yard run by Quincy Thomas on third down put the ball on the 2-yard line, and Voth and Grace then connected for a 2-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Cheney looked poised for more when Southeast’s next possession ended on an interception by Thomas. But the Cardinals gave the ball back to the Trojans on a bad snap that put the Trojans on the Cardinals’ 27-yard line. Southeast looked to be in position to score, running the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the Trojans fumbled the ball into the end zone and out of bounds, giving possession back to Cheney.
Cheney missed another opportunity, however, getting picked off on a halfback pass on a drive that went down to the Trojans’ 31.
All of that happened in a wild first quarter.
Southeast cut its deficit to one possession with a 76-yard drive, scoring on a 28-yard pass to make it 14-8 with 6:02 to go in the first half. Cheney responded with its own scoring drive. A 47-yard pass to Dayton Higgs put the Cardinals in scoring position, and six plays later Grace ran the ball in on fourth-and-goal at the 4 to give Cheney a 21-8 halftime lead.
In the second half, Southeast was better able to move the ball while Cheney hurt itself with mistakes.
The Cardinals’ defense held Southeast on the opening drive, aided by Jackson Voth’s sack that put the Trojans’ drive in trouble. But Cheney’s next drive included two penalties and a bad punt snap on fourth-and-25 that allowed Southeast to score on the very next play. The Trojans’ failed on the 2-point try, and Cheney held on to a 21-20 lead.
The Cardinals bounced back with a 74-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass to Higgs. It was Harrison Voth’s third scoring pass of the night, and put Cheney ahead 28-20 late in the third quarter. But that was Cheney’s last trip into the end zone.
Southeast tied the game on the next possession, driving 59 yards to tie the game at 28 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter.
Following a lost fumble by Cheney, the Trojans went 87 yards to take their first lead of the game. This game was only the second time Southeast trailed any team this season.
A potential interception by Jack Voth was waived off after the Cardinals were flagged for roughing the passer. The Trojans scored on a 33-yard quarterback scramble, going ahead 34-28 with 8:28 left in the game.
The Cardinals had a chance to tie or go ahead on its next drive, and they advanced as far as the Southeast 17-yard line, converting on fourth-and-17 with a pass from Harrison Voth to Thomas. But a first-down penalty pushed the Cardinals backward, and on fourth-and-15 a pass fell incomplete in the end zone. The Trojans were then able to get a pair of first downs and run out the clock.
“They were good and they were fast,” said Cheney head coach Shelby Wehrman. “We made too many mistakes to win the game.”
The coaching staff felt a number of calls went against them, too, but Wehrman said that should not have mattered.
“I always preach that you have to be better than that,” he said.
Wehrman said the Trojans’ speed was a challenge all night, and the Cheney defense was not making the defensive reads it needed to.
Before Friday, Southeast’s defense had allowed only 25 points for the entire season. The Cardinals gained 473 total yards, passing for 244 and running for 229. Both teams were efficient on third and fourth down.
Harrison Voth was 17-for-30 with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Higgs led all receivers with 124 yards on three catches with a score. Thomas had 66 receiving yards. Grace caught five catches, three of them for touchdowns. Thomas was the game’s top rusher with 152 yards, and Harrison Voth added 66 more.
The Cardinals will have their work cut out for them in 2022. Graduation will claim 14 seniors, all of whom started at some point this season and contributed all season long. They have been part of what is possibly the best run in Cheney football history.
Two years ago, the Cardinals advanced to the State semifinal game, and last year they started 9-0 for the just the second time in school history.
“The seniors have had a big impact on our success. They’re a great group of guys to hang around. It’s tough to see them upset about losing,” Wehrman said.