The Cardinal Football team traveled to Arkansas to represent Missouri in the Annual Bi-State Championship game for private football programs. The game was played on Saturday, November 6 at Tommy Holt Stadium in Hot Springs.
The Steelville Cardinals would come into the game with a 6-2 record; having only lost to last year’s defending NHFA national champions, the LCA Chargers from the greater Springfield area. Many of the Cardinal football teams wins this year came in a dominating fashion, punctuated by a big win against the number 2 ranked team in Arkansas, the Saints of Bridge Academy at their field. This championship game would pit Steelville against the number one ranked 8-man team in Arkansas, the Panthers of Hot Springs Christian School, who entered the game with a 9-1 record.
The Panthers greatest offensive strength was their triple-option offense, which yielded over 40 points per game average, but had never taken on the stingy Typhoon defense of the Steelville Cardinals.
This year, the Cardinal ground game had become powerful. With senior running backs Tyler DeClue and Blake Rice in the offensive backfield, the Panthers would have to cover a double threat: DeClue’s speed and Rice’s power. During the course of the game, these threats would open up the passing game with senior QB Will Korte and receivers Laramie Camerer, Trevor Adams, and freshman FB Levi Beel.
The Cardinal’s first offensive drive scored on the third play from scrimmage, with Tyler DeClue a 67 yard touchdown off the right side, courtesy of an outstanding block on the edge by sophomore guard Zach Smith. Coach Cook commented, “Tyler’s outstanding runs all game long were actually set up by our inside game. It was pretty evident that the Panthers defense had prepared to stop our outside running game, but they were unable to stop our fullbacks from driving up the field behind our offensive line. We were getting between five and six yards every time. Then when the Panther’s defense pinched in to stop our wedges, dives, and leads, we’d give it to Tyler to run outside.”
The Panther’s triple option offense scored only a few plays later, courtesy of a QB keeper on a long run from scrimmage that resulted in a TD one play later. The ensuing two-pointer failed, and the score was 8-6, Cardinals.
That would be the last time the Panther’s offense would get near the end-zone. Coach Jon Rice – the Cardinal’s Defensive Coordinator said, “They really put it all together today – they were up for this game.” All game long, the Steelville defense dominated the line of scrimmage, and because of the 6-2 look of the Cardinal defence, the Panthers could not find the running lanes they needed to advance the ball.
“We owe so much of our success this year and last year to our Defensive Coordinator, Coach Rice. Before he came, we were a good offensive team. Now because of this defense, we are a team that is much more rounded and able to compete at a higher level.”
On the next offensive drive, the Cardinals scored once again on the effort of a dominant offensive line and a steady pounding from Blake Rice carrying the ball upfield. For much of the game, Cardinal fullbacks Blake Rice, Levi Beel, and Devon Lea ran inside the tackles for an average of six yards per carry. “Our offensive line had a phenomenal game, and their tenacity and efficiency was key to our success in this game,” said Coach Cook
Late in the second quarter, two key defensive plays broke open the game for the Cardinals. On the first play, senior defensive end Laramie Camerer read a play action pass correctly and leveled the Panthers quarterback for an eight yard sack. Then in the play following, Camerer read the option coming to his side and intercepted the option pitch to the outside, batting the football high into the air, then using his height and aerial athleticism to bring it down out of the air and run the recovery in for a Cardinal touchdown. With that, Steelville was up by three scores before the half.
The only other Panthers score came on defense via a “scoop and score” after a Steelville fumble. After four tough quarters, the final score was Steelville 48 – Hot Springs 12. The Cardinals were named the Bi-State Champions and brought the bronze MO-ARK trophy home to Steelville for this year.
“It was the best game I’ve ever seen them play, and it was fitting – being the final game many of these boys would play for Steelville,” said Coach Cook. The season for Cardinal Football was officially closed when parents and fans joined the team on the field for a season ending huddle and prayer. The Cardinal football team would like to express their gratitude toward families, fans, and sponsors, without whom our season would not have been possible. "They all share a piece of our success."