Billed as an intense showdown between two proficient senior quarterbacks, Friday's clash of the Cardinals turned into the Nick Davenport show in the fourth quarter, as the Ell-Saline signal caller broke open a tie game against Sedgwick late, leading his team to a 27-13 victory on the road.
For Sedgwick players and fans, it might have felt like deja vu, as Davenport led a similar comeback effort in a 2A playoff contest last year. On Friday, the Ell-Saline quarterback tallied 18 carries and nearly 100 yards rushing in the final quarter alone — as the Sedgwick defense could not come up with an answer to stop the senior playmaker.
"We knew going in that, physically, he's the best player we're going to see. We knew he was a load and he wore us down, and they found our weakness and exploited something that we're not doing very well right now. They just kept running him off tackle and won the game that way," said Sedgwick head coach Jeff Werner.
Davenport might have plagued the host Cardinals late, but Ell-Saline's first score was a difference maker as well, as Luke Parks broke off a 68-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game to give the visitors a 7-0 lead and force Sedgwick to play catch up most of the night.
Sedgwick's defense buckled down and kept Ell-Saline mostly in check from that point on, but the offense could never find its rhythm as senior quarterback Hooper Schroeder was held under 200 yards passing for the first time this season.
"When we had opportunities, we just didn't make plays. Our receivers weren't on time, he (Schroeder) wasn't on time. We weren't in sync," Werner said. "They got us out of rhythm and we didn't play very well offensively; that's the key to tonight's game."
Late in the opening quarter, Schroeder was actually banged up and relegated to the sidelines for a few plays — and Ell-Saline took advantage, with Caleb Hammonds picking off Sedgwick's backup quarterback, Lance Hoffsommer. That set up the visitors' second score off the night, with Davenport plunging in for a two-yard touchdown to make it a 13-0 game early in the second quarter.
The host Cardinals answered with their most efficient drive of the night, as Schroeder connected with Gavin Fitch and Cauy Root on a couple of big pass plays to set up his own two-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 13-7.
After a defensive stand, Sedgwick's offense looked like it was gearing up as Schroeder connected with Fitch on a nifty shovel pass that the latter turned into a 32-yard gain. However, Fitch went down with an injury at the end of the play and had to be carted off the field — a key loss that sapped the momentum Sedgwick had been building.
"He had made a spectacular play, and then to have that type of injury is tough for high school kids to come back from," Werner said. "They (Ell-Saline) actually made a defensive adjustment during that amount of time they had during the injury, so that was a big part of the game as well."
Sedgwick made its own adjustments during halftime. With Ell-Saline's defense keying on the pass and dropping several defenders into coverage, the host Cardinals went with a more run-oriented look to start the third quarter.
Colton Smith and Schroeder combined to help the offense drive deep into Ell-Saline territory before Sedgwick had to settle for a 31-yard field goal attempt that Connor Tillman converted, making it a 13-10 game.
Following a quick three and out forced by the defense, Sedgwick went with another heavy dose of running, but again stalled just outside the end zone. Tillman did, however, convert his second field goal of the night (a 20-yarder) to tie the game up, 13-13.
Missed opportunities continued to plague Sedgwick, though, with the biggest coming on the team's next offensive possession. After recovering a fumble deep in Ell-Saline territory, the home team went four plays without gaining a yard — including a missed connection between Schroeder and receiver Noah Becker that would've picked up a chunk of yards — and Davenport took over from there, giving Ell-Saline the lead for good with 8:07 left in the game, while Parks tacked on one more touchdown in the remaining seconds.
League bragging rights were on the line Friday and while the loss is a tough one to swallow, Werner said Ell-Saline taught his team some lessons that hopefully Sedgwick will take forward as it eyes some bigger goals.
"If we want to be a great team, we need to come back this week and learn those lessons, get better and build towards winning a district title, getting into the state playoffs," Werner said. "This school hasn't won a playoff game since 2013 and our goal is to get in the playoffs and win a playoff game."
Sedgwick's (3-1) road won't get any easier as the Cardinals now prepare for a road game against Marion next week.
Ell. 7; 6; 0; 14; 27
Sedg. 0; 7; 6; 0; 13
11:12 Ell. Parks, 68-yard run (Roche kick) 7-0
11:33 Ell. Davenport, 2-yard run (kick fails) 13-0
9:33 Sedg. H. Schroeder, 2-yard run (Tillman kick) 13-7
8:03 Sedg. Tillman, 31-yard field goal 13-10
2:11 Sedg. Tillman, 20-yard field goal 13-13
8:07 Ell. Davenport, 6-yard run (Roche kick) 20-13
0:34.2 Ell. Parks, 2-yard run (Roche kick) 27-13
Ell. — Davenport (33-152-2), Parks (14-112-2), Bradley (2-5), Drees (1-3).
Sedg. — Smith (15-50), H. Schroeder (9-12-1).
Ell. — Davenport (4-8-65).
Sedg. — H. Schroeder (18-29-156-0-1), Hoffsommer (0-1-0-0-1).
Ell. — Peterson (4-65).
Sedg. — K. Schroeder (2-28), Lacey (3-15), Root (9-47), Fitch (2-52), Becker (1-5), Smith (1-9).