By Pete Chiodo
CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS —
The Region 2 championship might well have been on the line as Cambridge Springs and Eisenhower met Friday night at Baird Field.
Eisenhower was familiar with wearing the crown, having donned it as region champ just last year.
No reason to take it off now. The Knights defeated Cambridge in a well-played contest, 21-14.
“The first thing I’m going to say is give a mess of credit to (Cambridge head coach) Clint (Rauscher) and his staff and Cambridge Springs,” said Eisenhower coach Jim Penley. “They are phenomenal and they are physical and they came back from so much last year. And our guys knew it was going to be a battle. They knew it. But we came out quick. We made some nice plays. But Cambridge came back on us.
“That’s what a championship game is all about.”
With the win, Eisenhower improves to 5-1 overall and 5-0 in Region 2 and has just Union City and Youngsville left on its schedule, two teams that have one win combined.
Cambridge, meanwhile, falls to 5-1 on the season and 4-1 in region. The Blue Devils still have Maplewood and Mercyhurst Prep remaining on their region slate.
“I think it’s one of those that we have to grow from,” said Rauscher. “This is where you have to learn to win. Eisenhower, three weeks in a row, has found ways to win. They’re doing the key things when it counts. If you want to get your program to that level, you have to do it when it counts.”
Cambridge’s defense did a good job against Eisenhower’s rushing attack, holding the Knights to just 98 yards on the ground.
However, what hurt the Blue Devils was Eisenhower’s passing game. Quarterback Rob Wilston only completed 6 of 20 attempts and was picked off once. When he did connect with a receiver, though, it was during crucial, late-down situations.
“That was it,” said Rauscher. “We have to clean that up or everybody is going to do that to us. We have to get better in those situations.”
For example, late in the third quarter Cambridge Springs finished off a 56-yard, 11-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run by Gavin Hohn. On the play, Hohn fumbled the ball into the end zone and then recovered it himself to put the six on the board. The extra point tied it 14-14 and it looked like Cambridge Springs had the momentum.
“I thought we came out in the second half and really stared to handle them physically,” said Rauscher.
However, Eisenhower got the ball back. And on second-and-9, Wilston found receiver Tre Frank uncovered in the middle of the field and hit him with a 30-yard pass that got the Knights into Blue Devils territory.
Later in the drive, Eisenhower was faced with a fourth-and-7. Again, the Knights went to Wilston’s arm. He lateraled to Bryce Garris on a wide receiver screen. Garris got eight yards — first down.
Later still, Eisenhower was stalled at third-and-10 on the 19. And once again, Frank found himself all alone in the middle of the field. Wilston delivered. Frank made it down to the 1.
On the next play, Wilston plowed in for the touchdown, giving his team the lead.
“To me, it’s one of the beauties of running the spread offense that we run,” said Penley. “I’m not going to lie to you, we run about 40 formations. We make things very difficult on people. And what we’re looking for is that mismatch. And a couple times we were able to find those mismatches.”
Cambridge tried to mount a drive to answer that score. Colton Noble got the team off to a good start with a 43-yard kickoff return to Eisenhower’s 41.
The Spa’s offense marched all the way down to the Knight’s 9. But Eisenhower’s defense held. Cambridge turned it over on downs with 4:22 to play. Then Ike’s offense picked up a pair of first downs to drain the clock.
“We made plays on defense we needed to make,” said Penley.
Wilston ended the game with a team-high 19 carries for 60 yards and also passed for 171 yards on those six completions. Among those passes was a 40-yard pass to Jarrett Johnson on Eisenhower’s opening series. That pass set the Knights up on the 2, and Alex Johnson carried it in on the next down to put Ike up 7-0.
And later in the first, Wilston added a 67-yard touchdown throw to a wide open Garris that gave the Knights a 14-0 lead.
Leading Cambridge on offense was Noble, who carried the ball 30 times for 137 yards. Hohn added 52 yards on seven carries.
Devin Walker was 3-for-11 for 47 yards passing, and threw a 24-yard touchdown strike to Luke LeSeur in the second quarter, which cut Ike’s lead to 14-7.