Cardinals advance with 26-21 win over Greene County Tech

Photo By: Michael Hanich
The defense of Camden Fairview in a goal line set against the Hope Bobcats
Photo By: Michael Hanich The defense of Camden Fairview in a goal line set against the Hope Bobcats

They don't call it the playoffs for nothing.

Last Friday, the Camden Fairview Cardinals faced a determined Greene County Tech Eagles football team and survived a late charge to advance with a 26-21 win.

The Eagles avoided early disaster when they fumbled on the opening kickoff and recovered it before being stopping at their ten-yard line. Following a false start, the Cardinals' defense made their presence felt when they aggressively swarmed the Eagles. The visiting team's first offensive possession ended when CF's Elijah Tate came up with a big solo tackle for a short gain on a third-down pass. The Eagles punted to the CF 45-yard line.

The Cardinals took the field and utilized a five-wide set. CF would pick up a couple of first downs on its eight-play drive but turned the ball over on downs when they only gained five yards on a pass when they needed seven on a fourth down.

GCT took over at its 16-yard line and picked up their first, first down of the game a couple of plays later via a short run. However, the aggressive Cardinals' defense came up with a big play when senior defensive end Jacovey Barker came up with a big strip sack to get the ball back in the Cardinal offense's hands. After Martavius Thomas hit Brandon Copeland for a 15-yard gain, Ja'Coriae "Bug" Brown rumbled in for a nine-yard touchdown. Nasir Khan's PAT was good, putting the Cardinals ahead 7-0 at the 5:25 mark of the first quarter.

GCT's offense would control the ball for the remainder of the first quarter despite two more sacks by the Cardinals - one from Kavieon Ross and another from Barker that tied the single-season sack record at 17 - before punting on the first play of the second quarter.

CF would find the end zone four plays later when Thomas hit senior Kaliek Helms for a 64-yard touchdown, his first varsity touchdown reception of his high school career. Khan added the PAT to put CF ahead 14-0.

The Cardinals kicked the ball short on the ensuing kickoff as the Eagles started at midfield. Eagles quarterback Christian Barber started to find a rhythm on the ground and in the air. He went 4/4 for 21 yards and ran for 29 yards on four carries to help get the Eagles in scoring position. The visiting team would ultimately score on a one-yard run and add the PAT with 5:02 left in the first half.

CF threatened to put more points on the board before the half when Ja'Toney McGhee returned the ensuing kickoff to the Cardinals 37-yard line. The Cardinals got the ball up to midfield after a couple of short pass completions, but the Eagles would get aggressive themselves and stop the Cardinals behind the line of scrimmage on consecutive screenplays to the flats. Thomas would pick up ten-yards on a third-down run, but a 15-yard pick-up on fourth and six to Copeland would keep the drive alive. The Cardinals would get the ball down to the 14-yard line with less than a minute left when Thomas was hit while trying to throw the ball. The Eagles scooped it and raced back to midfield. The half ended after a holding penalty on the Eagles.

CF received the ball to start the second half and took the field at its 20-yard line. The punt team was sent out on fourth and six. Khan was able to get off a good kick but was clobbered on the attempt. The officials penalized the Eagles for running into the kicker, giving the Cardinals five yards and making it fourth and one at their 29-yard line. CF went four it and attempted to run the ball up the middle, but the Eagles defense thwarted it, and the visiting team had its best starting field position of the night.

The home defense would stand tough again. After the Eagles picked up a first down on a fourth and one, Mark Welch would get to the quarterback for a three-yard sack on first down. Then, Barker would get to Barber again for a four-yard sack and set a new single-season sack record. The Eagles trotted out their field goal team for a 30-yard attempt, but the kick was way off.

The Cardinals started on their 20-yard line, but this time CF would find success. On the sixth play of the drive, Thomas found Copeland over the middle, and he broke a couple of tackles before outrunning the Eagles to the end zone for a 57-yard TD with 3:32 left in the third. The snap was low on the PAT, and Grant Jeffus attempted to make something out of it, but he was met just short of the goal line.

The Cardinals would kick the ball deep again, and the Eagles, struggling to field it, end up starting deep inside their territory. That's when the Eagles went on a time-consuming 11-play drive. That drive ate up the rest of the third and a chunk of the fourth. Camden Fairview, however, was able to stop the Eagles inside the ten-yard line, following a sack by Brown.

The Cardinal offense was unable to do much as a critical holding call dampened their drive, and they were forced to punt it from their 11-yard line.

The Eagles would threaten but on a second and ten from the Cardinals' 20-yard. The Cardinal defense sent the house, and Barber, who had found success throughout the night extending play outside the pocket and finding abandoned receivers, floated a pass over the middle and it was picked of by Arquavian Martin,off who raced down the visitors' sideline for an 87-yard touchdown and the Cardinal defense's first interception return for a touchdown of the season. CF opted to go for a two-point conversion, but it failed.

Then things got interesting.

GCT started its next possession at the Eagle 40. Three plays later, they were at the Cardinal ten-yard line with a first and ten. Barker would come up with his fifth sack of the night to push the Eagles back. The drive would eventually end when Barber would extend a play outside the pocket and fire it in the end zone, and the receiver was able to outleap a couple of Cardinal defenders that were playing the ball well and reel it in for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was added, making it 26-15 at the 5:29 mark of the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals started their next drive around midfield and got a big boost when Thomas hit Michael Pete Suell for a 30-yard pass. Thomas then picked up a significant gain on the run inside the ten-yard line. Thomas then found the end zone on a ten-yard run. As Cardinal nation began to exhale, a flag was thrown. The Cardinals were intercepted in the end zone on the next play with 3:29 left in the ball game.

The Eagles took over at their own 20, and Barber connected for a 37-yard pass and then a 43-yard pass for a touchdown. The Eagles attempted to go for two but failed.

GCT went for an onside kick, but the Cardinals would take possession. CF would spread out the Eagle defense and keep it on the ground to kill the clock.

Of the eight possessions the Cardinals had during the game, they scored on three but turned the ball over on downs twice and had two turnovers. While it may appear the Cardinals didn't run the ball enough, they were able to compile 142 yards on a total of 17 carries between Brown, Thomas, and Jatoney McGhee. Thomas finished 16/24 for 248 yards as the Cardinals played a relatively clean game, only earning four penalties. GCT was held to 283 total yards on 20/32 passing.

Barker set a new single-season sack record at 19, surpassing 17 set by Tarion Thompson in 2017. CF was also able to reverse a trend that has plagued them over the last five years and win the close game. From 2016-2021, CF was 5-16 in games decided by 8 points or less and 4-12 in games decided by 7 points or less. This year, the Cardinals are 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

The Camden Fairview Cardinals (10-1) will travel to face the White Hall Bulldogs (9-2) next Friday nigh for the second round of the 5A State Playoffs.

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