Cardinals reclaim Axe with help from special teams

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The Cardinals defeated GLIAC rival Northwood on Saturday, Nov. 3, in the annual Axe Bowl game, posting a score of 31-10 over the Timberwolves and reclaiming the Axe after losing possession of it last year.

Northwood was 2-4 in league play and 2-6 overall coming into the matchup, while the Cardinals sat at 3-3 and 6-3.

The Cardinal scoring attack began in the first quarter, when junior Josh Schelke blocked, recovered and returned a Timberwolf punt 12 yards to the end zone.

It was one of two scores that the Cardinal special teams accounted for on Saturday.

“Coach (Ben) Hodges, our special teams’ coordinator, has been putting together a great gameplan every week and has been putting us in the position to succeed all year,” Schelke said. “He told us (last) Tuesday that we’re going to block a punt this week. We happened to one up him and block two.”

The Timberwolves offense took an early second quarter lead, putting together scoring drives resulting in a 25-yard field goal from David Riser and a 32-yard rushing touchdown from Abdul Levy, giving them a 10-7 advantage.

Saginaw Valley reclaimed the lead on a four-yard rush from senior running back Nate McCrary and extended the lead on a 24-yard field goal from freshman kicker Connor Luksic just before the half, giving them a 17-10 lead.

The second special team score came on another blocked punt, as sophomore linebacker Bryce Anderson blocked a punt in the end zone and fell on it for the score.

The final score came after a 15-play, 61yard drive which was made successful on a one-yard rushing touchdown from junior quarterback Ryan Conklin.

The majority of the Cardinal offense was produced by rushes, netting 234 rushing yards all together.

Sophomore Nate McCrary and senior Jermaih Johnson led the attack with 98 yards and 92 yards, respectively.

Head coach Jim Collins explained the reasoning for the shift from the air to the ground, as the Cardinals have generally been a pass-heavy team this season.

“Much of our success was based on looks that we thought were going to be favorable in the run game,” Collins said. “They did some things from a coverage standpoint that took some of the passes away, but opened up the run game.”

The Cardinal offensive line, as a whole, was named “Meijer Player of the Game” for their efforts, further explaining the successful running attack.

With the win, the Cardinals moved to 4-3 in the GLIAC and 7-3 overall.

The team will head to Caledonia to take on Davenport (3-4, 6-4) on Saturday, Nov. 10, at noon for their final game of the season.