HASKELL — The Harmony Grove Cardinals (7-3, 5-2) needed a big win Thursday to secure the No. 3 seed heading into next week’s 3A playoffs.
Celebrating Senior Night and hosting a pesky Horatio Lions squad, the Cardinals took control early, putting the game away by halftime as they rolled to a 35-3 win in the regular-season finale.
“The senior class is loaded with lineman and we depend on those guys heavily and they came through tonight,” said Head Coach Paul Calley.
Senior quarterback Hunter Hilson started the game with a bang, trucking 30 yards untouched for the game’s first score with 11:02 left in the first quarter, putting the Cardinals up 7-0.
After a fumble recovered at the Lions 15-yard line by junior Jake Brooks, the Cardinals again turned to Hilson for another score, this time through the air as he found Sean Small on the second play of the series.
Harmony Grove led 14-0 with 9:30 to roll in the opening frame.
Horatio would string together a decently long series on its next drive, but a personal foul penalty and a big combined sack from Mason Massey and Trace Dixon would help end it with a punt.
With the rock at their own 12, the Cardinals, too, would put together a lengthy drive, marching 88 yards on 14 plays before Brooks powered in from 2 yards away to make it 21-0.
“As long as you have 6 (Hilson) and 3 (Brooks) on your side —on both sides of the ball — you have a good chance to win,” Calley said. “Those guys have come up big all year long. But they will be the first to tell you that their lineman are a big help.”
Harmony Grove’s defense continued to wreak havoc on the Lions, forcing a second punt before turning things over to the offense once again, this time at its own 31.
Anchored by three completions for 48 yards from Hilson, the Cardinals turned to Brooks from 10 yards away to cap their fourth scoring drive with a TD to lead 28-0 with 5:44 left in the half.
A third punt would allow Harmony Grove the chance to enforce the sportsmanship rule before halftime.
With 53 seconds left, the Cardinals took over at their own 15 and turned to Hilson once more.
The senior would complete a quick 13-yard pass before using his legs to gain 25 more. A couple of short completions and a big 15-yard pass interference call would give the Cardinals a first down at the Lions 18 with about 12 seconds left.
Looking to score quickly, Hilson found Brooks over the middle for an 18-yard TD to make it 35-0 at the break.
The second half was quick as the clock rolled and only saw one score as Horatio knocked through a 35-yard field goal, cutting Harmony Grove’s lead to 35-3.
Hilson led all passers and rushers with 160 yards through the air and two scores and 71 on the ground and a TD.
Hilson completed 12 of 17 pass attempts in the process.
Brooks would truck for 50 yards on eight carries, scoring two TDs as well.
Small put together a nice performance, hauling in three completions for 56 yards. Logan Whitley would collect four catches for 31 yards in the win.
With the victory, Harmony Grove seals the No. 3 seed in the postseason as it plans for its fifth straight trip to the playoffs.
The Cardinals will travel to No. 3 seed Hoxie (6-4, 5-2) in Round 1. Opening kickoff is set for 7 p.m. next Friday.
“Last year made believers out of our guys that if you prepare and you have confidence, you can go on the road and win,” Calley said.
Harmony Grove earned the fifth seed in 2016 and traveled to Mountain View, defeating the No. 1 seed for its first postseason win in school history.
“We played really well that game and we are going to have to do the same thing against Hoxie. They are very similar to us, but I think they probably have the size advantage and they are going to have the home-field advantage. We have played well on the road this year and I am excited about it and we are exactly where we wanted to be after Week 10.”
Thursday’s win also ties the school record for victories, matching totals from 2014 and ’16.