September 29, 2023 at 9:50 a.m.

Late Royall’s score nips Cardinals in crossover game

It was a don’t blink or you might miss it kind of game when Highland played Royall Friday in a crossover matchup.

After catching up to the Panthers in the second quarter the Cardinals were able to hold the lead after three periods.  But Royall found a way to score twice in the fourth frame and add a 34-30 win to their season.

Jackson Bender’s eight yard run and a two point conversion gave the Panthers a quick 8-0 lead but Bennett Smith layed the football into the hands of Michael Esser for a 34 yard strike that made it 8-6 in the first frame.

Highland scored first and took a 14-8 lead on a Smith to John Dreischmeier pass from 16 out and Cooper Oleson’s two point conversion.

Royall then tied it on a 70 yard kickoff return by Jake Ceizyk.

Then, Esser was the recipient of a Smith seven yard pass and the Cards found themselves ahead 20-14.

That didn’t last long as Bender got loose from the 40 and the score went over to Royall’s favor 22-20.

The Cards closed out the half with a 23-22 lead on a Landis Newberry 22 yard field goal.

“We executed a big field goal near the end of the first half to get us the lead,” Cardinals coach Jansen Scanlon said. “That's the second straight game we have made a field goal. Kicker Landis Newberry has been kicking consistently all season on extra points and has expanded his range as the weeks have passed. We are very confident that our field goal team will continue to make kicks which gives us a chance to put points on the board on nearly every trip into the red zone.”

Highland got the first score in the third frame and led 27-22 after Dreischmeier took a 14 yard pass from Smith and Newberry kicked the conversion.

But Royall had the answer.

Bender pulled the Panthers within two as he plunged in from the six. Then Colin McKittrick turned the game in Royall’s favor with a 36 yard run for the 34-30 final count.

The Cards had a chance at the win but it didn’t happen.

“We did get a chance to retake the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the drive stalled on a third and four play in which our receiver was knocked down while running his route,” Scanlon said. “We decided to punt and rely on our defense, which has been strong all year, to get a stop and get the ball back.  Unfortunately, they were unable to get that stop and Royall ran the clock out and ended the game.”

“It was definitely an action-packed game, with a lot of big plays on both sides,” Scanlon said about the highly entertaining contest.  “Both defenses struggled to get stops.  Both offenses moved the ball well. They won the special teams battle and the three turnovers we committed were a little too much to overcome to earn a road victory against a good football team.”  

Scanlon felt the offense was strong with 281 total yards, 214 through the air and 67 rushing.  Smith was 14 for 20 and Dreischmeier led the receivers with six catches for 85 yards.  Esser caught four for 80.

Darren Laufenberg was the leading rusher with 12 carries for 64 yards.

“Many of our offensive plays were effective throughout the game, as we gained 281 yards on only 36 plays,” said Scanlon.  “As the game played out I felt that quarterback Bennett Smith was seeing the field well and making the proper reads and that they were really struggling to defend our receivers in space. Because of that, we leaned a little more on the passing game in the second half.  Our passing game has been a consistent part of our offensive success throughout the season, and this game was no exception. John Dreischmeier and Michael Esser had big games, as each had two touchdown catches.”

The Thursday night game came up quickly with preparation.

“This week was a tough road trip on a short week of preparation after a big win over Ithaca,” Scanlon said. “Those factors, combined with our turnovers proved to be a little too much to overcome to earn a victory this week.  We will refocus this week on the fundamentals that earned us three straight wins before this loss. I know that our team will be excited to play rival Iowa-Grant, as many of the players and coaches know each other due to our wrestling co-op. We will need a good week of practice to get back on track and earn a win against a talented Panthers team.”