The Ell-Saline Cardinals began their quest for a state playoff birth at the Cardinals’ Nest in Brookville Friday night with a hard-fought 27-8 victory over the Republic County Buffaloes.. The fourth-ranked team in class 2A-1A, senior-laden Ell-Saline (6-0) was heavily favored on paper against a young Republic County (0-7) squad seeking its first win. Of course, games are won on the field, not on a spreadsheet, and the Buffaloes came ready for battle.
After both defenses pitched a first-quarter shutout, Ell-Saline cracked the scoring column early in the second quarter as junior quarterback Nick Davenport hooked up with senior receiver Spencer Came on a 27-yard touchdown pass. Following a success PAT from junior place kicker Eric Rincon, the Cards held a 7-0 advantage.
With less than two minutes to play before halftime, an Ell-Saline fumble gave Republic County its best field position of the night, beginning at the Cardinal 13-yard line. After forcing a 4th and 1 from just outside the 3-yard line, an Ell-Saline encroachment penalty gave Republic County 1st and goal from inside the 2-yard line. Two plays later, senior tailback Nick Allsman punched it in from a yard out for the first Buffalo points of the night.
The Buffaloes dipped into the bag of tricks on the following two-point conversion attempt – lining up seven offensive lineman near the left sideline, while keeping the center, quarterback and a pair of tailbacks between the hashes – to take their first lead of the night. Allsman, manning the quarterback slot for the conversion try, utilizing a deceptive quick snap to catch the Ell-Saline defense off guard, tossing a quick pass to fullback Mackenize Cromwell to give Republic County a shocking 8-7 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, both defenses continued to rule the night until Ell-Saline finally took the lead back for good with under a minute to go in the period on a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Davenport. Following a failed two-point try, the Cards led it 13-8.
Just over halfway through the fourth quarter, Ell-Saline finally snuffed out the Buffaloes upset bid for good with an unlikely touchdown strike. Facing 3rd and 22 from its own 33-yard line, Ell-Saline looked to eat some clock before punting away the football, opting for the quarterback draw. Working his way between the initial wave of would-be Republic County tackles between the hashes, Davenport broke free into the secondary, bounced it to the near sideline, then won the footrace to paydirt for 67-yard touchdown run to put the game out of the reach.
Davenport would add another score in the game’s final minute,. this time on an 87-yard burst for six.
With the win, coupled with a 78-0 Smith Center victory over Sacred Heart Friday night, Ell-Saline now has the opportunity to both clinch a birth in the 2A-1A state playoffs while eliminating the rival Knights when the two teams square off in Salina next Friday evening.
By Morgan Lillich