October 19, 2023 at 10:20 a.m.
Cardinals claim Ridge and Valley undisputed title
By John Dalton
The Highland Cardinals became sole conference champions in the Ridge and Valley Conference with an explosive 40 point second half en route to a 47-8 victory at Riverdale.
On a cool, damp, windy night, the Cardinals defense, as it has all year, set the tone early. The Chieftains would receive the opening kickoff and go on a 15 play drive only to be stopped four consecutive times at the 11 yard line and turn the ball over on downs.
Highland would go three and out and give Riverdale excellent field position. On fourth and 11, Riverdale quarterback Carson Kinyon found Andre Tainter for a sliding catch for 22 yards, at the Highland 16 yard line. But the Cardinal defense again shut down the drive taking over on downs.
Highland would then go on a 10 play drive. Key plays were a 12 yard pass completion from quarterback Bennett Smith to Cooper Oleson and a 35 yard sweep run by John Dreischmeier to the Chieftain 15 yard line. And three plays later Darren Laufenberg would run it in for a touchdown from the 10 yard line. Landis Newberry would kick the extra point for a 7-0 lead at the 10:31 mark of the second quarter.
On its next series, Riverdale would again be stopped by the Cardinal defense after five plays and take over on downs. Not to be outdone, Riverdale’s defense would rise to the occasion as Highland went on a 13 play drive, but would fumble the ball on third and goal at the one yard line. The football was recovered by Riverdale with 1:04 left before half.
Highland Coach Jason Scanlan, “We got off to a bit of a slow start, as a very senior-led Riverdale team seemed a little more intense to start the game. This was not a surprise to us as coaches, as we warned our players all week that we should expect an inspired effort from a team with 17 seniors playing in their last game.”
With a 7-0 lead at half, the Cardinals would start the second half with a bang. After a deep kickoff, Kaden Washa would back up. take the ball and race 92 yards untouched for a touchdown. The extra point made it 14-0. Coach Scanlan, “Kaden Washa and the kick return team gave us a big emotional lift when he returned the second-half kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. The kick return team has been improving throughout the year, and as coaches, we kept telling them that they were going to get a TD before the end of the season. It was nice to see their hard work pay off with a big return that was really the turning point of the game.”
The Highland defense would again stop Riverdale after an eight play drive and go on an 11 play scoring drive of its own, this time through the air. On the drive, Smith would find Esser twice, for 13 and 20 yard catches. Then facing a third and 15, Smith would air it out to Dreischmeier for a 20 yard touchdown. They faked the extra point try and Dreischmeier would find Laufenberg for a two point pass conversion making it 22-0 at the 3:12 mark of the third quarter.
Wes Kraisinger would intercept a Riverdale pass on its next possession, and four plays later Smith again would find Dreischmeier for a 29 yard touchdown making it 28-0 at the end of the third quarter. Smith was 14 of 20 for 175 yards passing and two touchdowns. Dreischmeier hauled in three passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
“After halftime, our defense settled into the game and was its usual strong and resilient self. Wes Kraisinger led the way on defense with 13 tackles and an interception. We forced three turnovers and were able to capitalize on those turnovers with scoring drives from the offense. Once we got the momentum going we got a lot of big plays from many of our skill players,” said coach Scanlan.
Riverdale would battle back on a 57 yard kickoff return by Ethan Bomkamp. Two plays later Tim Bailey would run for a 15 yard touchdown to put the Chieftains on the board. Landon Bobb then hauled in an over the shoulder pass from Kinyon for the 2-point conversion making it 28-8.
But Highland would break the game open early in the fourth quarter starting with a 69 yard Laufenberg touchdown, outrunning the Chieftain defense and after the extra point it was 35-8. For the night Laufenberg led all running backs with 153 yards on 18 carries and 2 touchdowns.
Highland would recover a fumble on Riverdale’s next possession. On fourth and five, Smith hit Jackson McGuire who was hit hard after the catch that looked like it would be a loss, but he muscled his way for seven yards and a first down. Tyson Imhoff ran the ball three straight times and scored a touchdown from the six yard line and a 41-8 lead.
Landis Newberry would again intercept a Kinyon pass on Riverdale’s next possession and Imhoff would run it 21 yards on first down and then 53 yards for another Cardinal touchdown. After a blocked extra point the final score would end up being 47-8.
Imhoff had 97 yards rushing on 8 attempts for two touchdowns on the night. Coach Scanlan, “After halftime, our defense settled into the game and was its usual strong and resilient self. Wes Kraisinger led the way on defense with 13 tackles and an interception. We forced three turnovers and were able to capitalize on those turnovers with scoring drives from the offense. Once we got the momentum going we got a lot of big plays from many of our skill players. It was a strong, selfless performance by many of our players, which is the attitude you need to have to win football games and conference titles.”
Highland will now travel to face River Ridge in its first round WIAA playoff game Friday night. These two teams met earlier in week one at Highland in a hard fought game won by River Ridge on a 46 yard touchdown pass with only :20 seconds left in the game.
Said Scanlan, “It has been an exciting season so far, and we are proud to have won the conference title in the last year of the 11-player Ridge and Valley conference, as well as our last year as an 11-player football team in Highland. That being said, we are a confident team as we head into the playoffs. We will travel to River Ridge for our round one playoff game. We played a close game in Week 1, but I am sure that both of us are much better football teams than we were on that night. Coach Wade Winkers always has his teams well-prepared. It will be a fun challenge to game plan and prepare for such a talented opponent.”
Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. Friday.