Conference Champs: Cardinals finish conference play undefeated with 31-28 win over Hot Springs

Camden Fairview Athletic Director Ricky Tucker and CF Head Football Coach Jake Monden
Camden Fairview Athletic Director Ricky Tucker and CF Head Football Coach Jake Monden

The Camden Fairview Cardinals won their first outright conference title since 2012 when they defeated the Hot Springs Trojans 31-28.

While the records and accolades may have indicated that the Cardinals would run up the score against the Trojans, fans and coaches that follow the game closer knew it would live up to its Hooten's Game of the Week expectations.

The Cardinals have played nine straight games as the injuries, bumps and bruises were beginning to pile up. Three Cardinals student athletes were unable to touch the field Friday night. These were receivers who were responsible for helping account for a 500-yard performance in the first half against De Queen a few weeks ago.

Two of those players also play on defense in the seconday. Early season standout Ja'Toney McGhee has been dealing with an injury since Week 3 and has been limited. Center Landon Morgan and tackle Mark Welch were banged up against Hope last week.

Another reason why the game was going to be a good one is because of the connection between the two programs. The Trojans are coached by former Cardinals defensive coordinator Darrell Barnett, the last defensive coordinator to win a conference title and a state title at CF. Hot Springs entered the game with only one conference loss in the season. The Trojans culd have recceived a share of the conference title with a win over the Cardinals and a win against its cross-town rivals, Lakeside, next week.

After a week of constant adjustments, the two opponents made their way on to the field and the scoring would start early and often. Much has been made about the Trojans and their special teams as they have a solid kicker and a couple of dangerous return men.

However, so do the Cardinals.

Brandon Copeland fielded the opening kick-off on the hop from the 15-yard line, shredded an arm tackler and raced down the middle for an 85 yard touchdown. Nasir Khan kicked the PAT to put the Cardinals ahead by seven.

Hot Springs would get a 24-yard return on the ensuing kick and start at their 44-yard line. Hot Springs quarterback Isaac Shellor managed the Trojans' no-huddle offensive attack masterfully as the visiting team picked up four first downs on its opening drive and a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak to tie it with nine minutes left in the opening quarter.

The Trojans would kick it high and short for the Cardinals to fair catch it at the 34-yard line and it would be Martavius Thomas' turn to show what he could do behind the Cardinal's proficient offense. Besides a flag that wiped out a 25-yard run by Thomas, the Cardinals were just as potent as the Trojans and only took six plays to score after Thomas hit Copeland for a 16-yard touchdown.

Hot Springs wouldn't slow down on offense as they answered back on their next drive when Shellor scored on a 30-yard pass to the tailback.

The defense for each team would settle in and force punts from both sides to close out the first quarter.

The Cardinals had the ball at the start of the second quarter, but turned the ball over on downs when Thomas was sacked at the Cardinals 32-yard line. The Trojans would use that to their advantage and stick to the ground game to snatch the lead from the Cardinals after a nine-play drive capped by a two yard run by Hot Spring' fullback.

CF showed resolve and knotted the game up with an impressive drive of its own when McGhee scored on a 15-yard run.

The Trojans would go on an impressive drive and get the ball inside the Cardinals' red zone before turning the ball over on downs after the Cardinals pushed the Trojans back and put them in a third and 26 situation.

The Cardinal offense got back on the field, ironically at the 2:12 mark of the second quarter, and executed an excellent scoring drive, completing 5/6 passes before ending the drive with a five-yard run into the end zone by Thomas as the half expired. The score was critical as the Trojans would receive the ball in the second half.

Khans was four-for-four on PATs for the night and gave the Cardinals the 28-21 lead.

The Cardinal defense stood tall to open the half and the Cardinal offense would take the ball back into its possession with about nine minutes left in the third. CF was able to chew up some clock and extend its lead when Khan nailed a 36-yard field goal with a minute left in the quarter.

On the next Hot Springs drive, the Cardinal defense would come up big as Kaveon Ross recovered a fumble around its 20 yard line. Things really appeared to sway in the Cardinals favor when Thomas got loose for a big run deep inside Trojan's territory but it was called back. Penalties would mar the drive and force the Cardinals to punt.

The Trojans would score on a two yard run on their next possession leaving the Cardinal only ahead by three with six minutes left in the ball game.

CF was content with runnin the ball to try to kill the clock and had another big gain called back with 3 minutes left in the game. The Cardinals would pick up a couple of first downs, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs near the red zone.

The Trojans would threaten and picked up back to back first down on their first two plays. The Cardinal defense would answer the call though and force an incomplete pass on fourth down to put the ball back in the offense's hands with 20 seconds left. The Trojans, without any timeouts, had to watch the Cardinal kneel in victory formation for the win.

CF Coach Jake Monden was hit with an ice bath as the team rushed field. CF Athletic Director Ricky Tucker presented the 5A Conference Championship plaque to Monden at mid field.

The Cardinal will have a much deserved bye week next Friday before going into the playoffs.

Camden Fairview Cardinals pose with the conference championship trophy after the win
Camden Fairview Cardinals pose with the conference championship trophy after the win
Jatoney McGhee gets a block from Jabauree Lockhart during a hard run in the third quarter.
Jatoney McGhee gets a block from Jabauree Lockhart during a hard run in the third quarter.

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