By Jim Hunter
The Cochranton community’s pulse stopped at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Friday night.
The Cardinals’ all-world quarterback Chad Eisenhooth — who scored three touchdowns to give CHS an 18-7 lead over Mercyhurst Prep — was carried off the field with a sprained ankle and his return was doubtful.
The Cardinals without Eisenhooth? Oh-noooooo.
Wait one minute. The Cochranton community found out the Cardinals aren’t a one-man team.
Keyed by senior quarterback/running back Garrett Adams’ emergence as the Cardinals’ go-to player, Cochranton responded to Eisenhooth’s injury with a gut-check effort as the Redbirds knocked off the Lakers, 32-21 in Region 2 action.
The win avenged Cochranton’s (2-1, 1-1) heart-breaking 41-34 loss to Mercyhurst Prep (1-2, 1-1) last season.
The Cardinals had another reason for having a bitter taste in their mouths — a lackluster performance in their 42-12 loss to Cambridge Springs last week.
Cochranton’s taste buds got dry in the third quarter when Eisenhooth injured his ankle. It looked more serious than a sprain at the beginning, but according to reports, Eisenhooth — who walked off the field after the game on crutches with his ankle wrapped heavily in ice — may be ready to play next week against Union City.
“Obviously, it didn’t look good when Chad went down,” said Cochranton coach Nate Liberty. “Everyone knows he is the heart-and-soul of this team.”
Eisenhooth was on his way to a brilliant game — rushing for 111 yards on 10 carries and the aforementioned three touchdowns, including a 50-yard scamper on Cochranton’s opening possession in the third quarter to increase the Cardinals’ lead to 18-7.
Eisenhooth got injured on his next carry.
Enter Adams ... and Jesse Staudt ... and a punishing Cochranton offensive line.
On Mercyhurst Prep’s ensuing possession after Eisenhooth’s injury, running back Joe Swanson capped off a 45-yard, seven-play drive with a one-yard scoring plunge to cut Cochranton’s lead to 18-14 with 1:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Adams & Co. didn’t flinch an eye.
Calling possibly its biggest play of the game, Adams — who was operating out of the shotgun — rolled to his right and lofted a pass to a wide-open Tyler Buchan by the right sideline.
Buchan did the rest, racing down the right sideline for a 58-yard touchdown to keep the momentum on Cochranton’s side of the field and give the Cardinals a 24-14 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the third period.
The Lakers answered back as quarterback Nick Evanoff tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to split end Tommie Elias to close the deficit within 24-21 with 7:55 left in the game.
Staudt then stepped up for the Redbirds.
On Cochranton’s first play, the fleet-footed senior running back started around the left end and cut back across midfield for a 38-yard gain to give the Cardinals’ first-and-10 at MP’s 21.
Five plays later, Adams bulldozed in from the three to give the Cardinals a 32-21lead with 5:07 left in the game.
On the Lakers’ ensuing possession, Cochranton’s late-game offensive heroes — Adams and Staudt — teamed up and tackled MP’s Eric Baer for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-sixth.
Extra points: Running primarily out of shotgun formation, Cochranton ran the ball effectively — rushing for 303 yards on 33 carries, a 9.2 average. Besides Eisenhooth’s 111 yards rushing, Adams gained 88 yards on 14 carries, Staudt rushed for 61 on four hauls and Jamar Moody toted the pigskin five times for 43 yards. “This offensive approach made the game a lot easier for us,” said Liberty ... Swanson was Mercyhurst Prep’s top rusher with 117 yards on 23 carries ... Eisenhooth also came up huge defensively. He stopped Baer on fourth-and-three at the Cardinals’ four late in the second quarter ... Are you looking for a PA announcer? Cochranton’s John Sbirbly is one of the best.