While it may not have been pretty, a win is a win at this point in the football season — and the Sedgwick Cardinals will take them any way they can get them, advancing in the postseason with a 20-2 victory over Meade on Friday night.
Drawing a rematch with their district foes in the regional round of the Class 1A playoffs, the Cardinals got off to another slow start as the Buffaloes took the opening kickoff and proceeded to set the tone with their run heavy, ball control offense.
"Meade has won two state titles in the last seven years; their kids knew how to get up, their coaches had 'em ready to play," said Sedgwick coach Jeff Werner. "We played our best football game in the regular season against them and they made some corrections. They came back to play and we did not match that intensity early; I thought we did coming out at half. That's really, I think, the tale of the game."
Both teams turned the ball over on downs on their first offensive possessions and, while the Sedgwick defense then forced a three and out, Meade pinned the Cardinals deep — at their own 10-yard line — on the team's second series.
That field position proved little more than a speed bump, as the Cardinals needed just three plays to go 90 yards and take a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter. Quarterback Hooper Schroeder connected with Kale Schroeder, who raced 85 yards for the touchdown to put Sedgwick on the scoreboard.
From that point on, though, it was a defensive grind in the first half as a missed field goal and penalties kept points off the board for Sedgwick on their next two offensive possessions. Penalties, in particular, kept the Cardinals from getting into a rhythm while Werner noted the team may also have been shaking off a little rust from having a bye in the first week of the playoffs.
On the defensive side of the ball, though, the Cardinals were stout throughout the night. Mason Lacey and the rest of the Sedgwick defense came ready to play, with Lacey recovering a fumble in the second quarter and also recording a big tackle for loss before halftime to force a field game attempt that the Buffaloes could not convert. Going up against a team like Meade, the Cardinals knew they had to bring it and they delivered — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
"We basically shut 'em out and I'm very proud of our defense. That offense looks really cool in September, but you win games in high school football having a good defense and those guys played hard tonight," Werner said. "...That's twice in a year we've shut that (Meade offense) down."
"It's always fun playing teams like that because they're a great program, they know what to do and you have to bring it every time," Lacey said. "We just made sure we could do everything in our power to win this game."
Holding onto a slim lead to start the second half, the third quarter did not get off to a great start for Sedgwick as Meade attempted and recovered an onside kick and then drove deep into Cardinal territory.
Penalties stalled the drive for the Buffaloes and forced a punt, but the visitors were able to pin the Cardinals at their own one-yard line. Then, a penalty on the Sedgwick offense (for an illegal forward pass in the end zone, leading to a safety) gave the Buffaloes their first points of the game, making it 6-2 in favor of the home team.
Despite the positive result for Meade, that play seemed to light a fire in the Cardinals as the defense stonewalled the Buffaloes on their next possession and the Sedgwick offense then served Meade a heavy dose of its own medicine — keeping the ball on the ground to march 75 yards down the field before Hooper Schroeder connected with Lacey on a 20-yard touchdown pass that pushed the Cardinals' lead to 13-2.
After a turnover on downs to start the fourth quarter, the teams then traded a pair of three and out series before the Sedgwick offense went back to work churning out yards on the ground. The drive was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown run from Hooper Schroeder for the final score of the game, making it 20-2 in favor of Sedgwick.
Offensively, Werner credited the line for stepping up to alleviate some of the pressure on the passing game, but overall it was a team attitude change after that safety that turned things around for the Cardinals.
"We were frustrated. We were frustrated with how we were playing, we were frustrated with how we were acting and I thought we kind of straightened those things up in the third and fourth quarter," Werner said. "Those last two drives that we scored on were the best two drives that we've had in a while. We were very pleased with some of the plays they were making."
Surviving and advancing, Sedgwick (9-1) will go from facing one storied program to facing one of the most storied programs in Kansas high school football as the Cardinals prepare to host Smith Center (9-1) in the sectional round of the playoffs next Friday.
Challenging as the match up may be, Werner noted Sedgwick has gone "big game hunting" against some of the state's elite before and that is a step the Cardinals will have to take if they want to build their own pedigree.
"They are the odds on favorite to win the state title," Werner said, "and so if we want to go to that game we have to play well next week."
Meade; 0; 0; 2; 0; 2
Sedg.; 6; 0; 7; 7; 20
3:59 Sedg. K. Schroeder 85-yard pass from H. Schroeder (Kick fails) 6-0
8:44 Meade Safety 6-2
4:09 Sedg. Lacey 20-yard pass from H. Schroeder (Tillman kick good) 13-2
5:38 Sedg. H. Schroeder 15-yard run (Tillman kick good) 20-2
Sedg. — Smith (17-79), H. Schroeder (7-64-1), K. Schroeder (1-11). Meade — Haynes (27-86), A. Davis (5-12), Stapleton (10-34), H. Davis (6-22), Clawson (8-16).
Sedg. — H. Schroeder (8-15-166-1). Meade — Haynes (2-5-21).
Sedg. — K. Schroeder (4-122-1), Lacey (2-27-1), Burns (1-8), Shepherd (1-9). Meade — Stapleton (1-2), Unruh (1-19).