The Ell-Saline Cardinal football squad wrapped up its regular season on Senior Night in Brookville, hosting the state’s top-ranked team in Class 1-A, the Smith Center Redmen in one of Friday night’s marquee match-ups around the Sunflower State. The action on the gridiron certainly lived up to the pregame hype.
Both defenses held serve until the 8:35 mark in the second quarter, when Smith Center senior tailback Colby Benoit capped off a 12-play, 53-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to give the Redmen a 7-0 advantage – a lead they would carry into halftime.
Smith Center began the second half with another 12-play drive, taking 6:34 off the clock, but the Ell-Saline defense forced a turnover on downs at the Cardinal nine-yard line. Taking possession for the first time in the second half, the Cardinals marched 91 yards on 11 plays, with senior quarterback Nick Davenport finishing off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown burst to pull Ell-Saline within one at 7-6.
The Redmen blocked the ensuing PAT try, but were called for a penalty, giving Ell-Saline a second chance from just inside the two-yard line. Following a timeout, the Cardinals elected to go for two, with Davenport again toting the rock across the goal line to give Ell-Saline an 8-7 lead with 0:14 to play in the third quarter.
In a defensive slugfest, the play of the night came from an unlikely source. Following three consecutive penalties on the Smith Center offense, the Redmen found themselves facing fourth and long from their own 17-yard line. Senior punter Logan Zabel boomed a 61-yard punt to pin Ell-Saline back to its own 22-yard line with just over four minutes to play.
After forcing a three-and-0ut, Smith Center took possession at the Ell-Saline 49-yard line and drove deep into Cardinal territory only to be turned away on downs yet again. The Cardinals took over at their own 7-yard line, but the Redmen defense stood tall again, forcing another 3-and-out.
Following an 18-yard punt from Ell-Saline, Smith Center took over at the Cardinal 25-yard line with 2:00 minutes to play. Working from the legendary Barta Bone offense, the Redmen ground the ball down to the Ell-Saline 1-yard line, then with just 25 seconds remaining, senior tailback Hesston Maxwell plunged into the end zone for the one-yard touchdown run. Junior quarterback Trenton Colby carried into the end zone for the two-point conversion, giving Smith Center a 15-7 lead.
Ell-Saline took over with 20 seconds remaining at its own 16-yard line, reached the midfield stripe, but ran out of time as the Redmen held on for the hard-fought victory.
Smith Center (7-1, 3-0) claimed the District 5 title with the win, while Ell-Saline (6-2, 2-1) finishes second in the four-team district.
Davenport went 6-for-9 through the air for 113 yards, with sophomore Treyton Peterson leading the Cardinal receiving corps with four catches for 87 yards. Junior Sawyer Kramer added one catch for 17 yards, while senior Joel Came hauled in a grab for nine yards.
On the ground, Ell-Saline was held to just 61 yards on 27 carries, with junior Luke Parks leading the way with seven carries for 25 yards.
Ell-Saline will host the third-place team in District 6 next Friday in Brookville, squaring off with the LaCrosse Leopards, while Smith Center returns home to face the last-place team in District 6, the Oakley Plainsmen.