ASHDOWN – Picked to finish last in their first year of 7-4A Conference play and doubted by many, the Harmony Grove Cardinals are off to a good start. On Friday in their league opener, the Cardinals took down the Ashdown Panthers 36-20 at Dick Hayes Stadium on the road.
“These kids play with their hearts,” Cardinals Coach Mike Guthrie said. “They play so hard and as a coach and a coaching staff you really can’t ask for more than that. They’re very coachable and when you ask them to do something, they try to get it done. That’s what makes them such a joy to coach.”
The Cardinals improved to 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the ever-tough 7-4A heading into next week’s match with the Malvern Leopards, which were demolished by the Bauxite Miners 34-3 at home, at Sykes Stadium in Haskell. Ashdown falls to 2-2, 0-1 in league play.
Cardinals senior running back Jake Brooks led the way on the ground for Harmony Grove, running for 116 yards on just 11 carries of the Cards’ 294 yards rushing. He would also get Haskell’s first touchdown of the game in the first quarter on a 35-yard rumble. A successful 2-point conversion put the Cardinals up 8-7. Brooks also led the Harmony Grove with seven tackles.
“He had a really good night,” Guthrie said of Brooks. “He had a good supporting cast around him, also. Brooks is one of those kids … he just has a motor and when he goes, he goes all out every snap. It has spread like wildfire through our football team. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to have the success that we’re having is because of how hard these guys play.”
The Panthers would later score on a 50-yard kickoff return to go up 13-8 after an unsuccessful point-after, but it was all Harmony Grove after that.
The second quarter belonged to the Cardinals as Ryan Riedmueller’s 1-yard TD run put the Cardinals up 16-13 after Brooks ran in the 2-pointer, and senior quarterback Logan Whitley found junior receiver Hayden Hilson for a 9-yard TD and 22-13 lead at the half.
Harmony Grove added on in the third quarter with a 9-yard TD run from senior James Webb for a 30-13 lead before the Panthers got within 10, 30-20, after Jaxon Jester’s 23-yard TD pass.
But, the Cardinals would put the nail in the coffin when junior back Willie Newton ran in a TD from 5 yards out and the Haskell defense stepped up strong allowing just 173 total yards, including four takeaways, one on an interception by senior Shane Small, and fumble recoveries by junior corner back Connor Burrow, senior defensive end Mason Massey and senior safety Mark Dixon.
“The defensive staff did an excellent job,” Guthrie said. “They scouted them up and we knew going in they basically have three plays they’ve been making a living on and as a staff they sit down and go, ‘what do we have to do to stop this.’ You want to stop them from doing what they want to do and if they can beat you doing something they’re not used to doing, more power to them. I felt like our defensive staff did a good job putting our kids in the right spot to make the plays.”
Fighting warm weather their first three contests, the Cardinals had a reprieve as it cooled off a bit in Ashdown Friday night.
“It was a little cooler (Friday) and it was the first game we haven’t really ran out of gas,” Guthrie said. “Those first three games it was so darn hot, we have so many kids going both ways, we’re having a hard time even standing up at the end of the game. The weather helped us a little bit. Hopefully it will cool off and allow these guys to play, because we have several kids that play both ways.”
Led by their rushing attack, the Cardinals put up 367 total yards, which included a 3-for-6 day from Whitley for 73 yards and a TD vs. one interception. Whitley also rushed for 43 yards.
Webb followed Brooks’ day with 71 yards on 16 carries, Newton eight for 26 and a TD, and Riedmueller’s five for 19 and a TD. Webb also hauled in a 31-yard pass and Dixon a 33-yarder in the win.
The Cardinals now turn their attention to the Leopards.
“Malvern is going to be tough,” Guthrie said. “Every school in this conference is. You’ve got to bring your A-game and play almost perfect every Friday night if you want to be in the game. Defensively, they’re very tough. Offensively it looks like they’re going to try to spread you out and use speed on you. We definitely have a very large challenge ahead of us.
“The coaches are working this weekend and the kids are going to come in Monday and we’re going to go back to work and try to put the best product we can on the field come Friday night. Give you something to be proud of.”