The Hardin-Central Bulldogs entered their 8-man quarterfinal contest with Stewartsville short-handed.
With the roster already depleted with the loss of a starting lineman and fullback before the game at Lee Meador Field even began, the Bulldogs battled more injuries Saturday, but did not back down as their season came to an end with a 50-16 loss to the visiting Cardinals.
The Stewartsville victory pushes the Cards into the semifinal game Saturday against St. Joseph Christian. The 10-1 Lions punished Miami 56-0. The Bulldogs had their five-game winning streak snapped as they end the year with a 7-4 mark.
The Dawgs did not have the services of All-State lineman Lukas Milligan and fullback Randy Estenbaum before the kickoff on a very cold afternoon, but when quarterback/defensive back Patrick King and lineman Chris Herring were hurt during the game, the outcome was inevitable.
Hardin-Central Coach Kirk Thacker said his team never gave up and did not quit until the final seconds had ticked off the clock.
“I am so proud of the boys,” he said. “They never quit fighting. We had a few mistakes, but we had to improvise because of injuries, but our hearts were never in question.”
Thacker said the loss of King during the second quarter limited the number of plays his team could use.
“We couldn’t stay in the spread offense like we wanted to,” he added.
The injury problems really reached its peak when Herring got hurt – leaving Hardin-Central with only seven players.
“I questioned if we would be able to continue and Chris told us to pick him up because this was the last game of his career and he wanted to finish it,” Thacker said. “That is the type of character and heart that is on this team from top to bottom. It was a very emotional scene in the locker room afterwards. I am very honored to have coached these seniors the past four years. This was a very special team this year.”
Dakota Gill was the offensive spark for the 8-2 Cardinals as he rushed for 104 yards on a dozen carries, in addition to completing 4 of 6 passes for 120 more yards.
Defensively, Tyler DeSpain was the right man in the right spot for Stewartsville. He recovered two Hardin-Central fumbles in the end zone for touchdowns.
The Bulldogs lead briefly after spotting Stewartsville an early touchdown, Hardin-Central answered with a 19-yard King touchdown run, followed by Chris Herring’s run for the conversion for an 8-6 lead.
King carried the ball just 10 times in the contest and ended up with 73 yards. However, the rest of the game belonged to the visiting Cardinals as they scored the next 44 points.
Dakota Dunlop sparked the Stewartsville scoring parade with a 38-yard run, followed by another Duke Jacobs touchdown run, and DeSpain’s first fumble recovery after the snap went over the Hardin-Central punter’s head and into the end zone. Gill’s 10-yard run boosted the Stewartsville lead at the half to 36-8.
After a scoreless third period, DeSpain fell on another loose football in the end zone and Gill added a 14-yard scoring run to his daily total. Chris Wilson, who led the Bulldog rushing chart with 140 yards on 28 carries, scored the final touchdown of the season for Hardin-Central on a 30-yard run, and Grant Wheeler added the finishing touches with the run for conversion.
Wilson and Spencer completed one pass each for Hardin-Central with Daniel Carpenter grabbing one for 2 yards, and Mark Carpenter catching the other for a 5-yard gain.
Daniel Carpenter also led the tackle chart with 18 stops, with Mark Carpenter in on 10 tackles. Spencer and Herring had one fumble recovery apiece for the Dawgs.
PHOTO: Bulldog running back Chris Wilson (30) pulls away from a Stewartsville defender on his way to a 140-yard rushing game. (Photo by JoEllen Black/The Daily News.)