Plainville senior Jared Casey follows the same pregame routine. The Cardinals take the short walk to the stadium at 6 p.m., an hour before kickoff. Casey puts on his pads at 5:35. At 5:40, he comes over for assistance applying his large white covering on his injured right hand.
Casey, a four-year starter, hurt his hand against Thomas More Prep-Marian in Week 3. He missed two contests. A couple of assistant coaches, normally Ryan Becker and Steve Buresh, help Casey apply the various layers. The process normally takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes.
Since his return, Casey has rushed for at least 123 yards in five straight wins. That included a big showing in Friday’s 53-21 home victory against Ell-Saline in a Class 1A Round of 16 playoff contest.
“I have pre-wrap over it, and then I have a cloth over it, and then I have the regular cast, and then a yoga mat pad,” Casey said. “And then, I have the tape on top of it, so it’s about five different layers I have got on there, and it protects it.”
The Cardinals led 26-0 after the first quarter and 47-7 at halftime. The contest had a running clock that started with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Casey rushed 15 times for 162 yards and scores from five, 15 and one yard. He has tallied 1,223 yards this fall.
“The last time I really got hit at Ellis, and it kind of stung a little bit,” Casey said of a Week 7 victory. “But I am getting better every week as it progresses, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks I might not have to wear it, so we will see.”
Plainville improved to 9-1 and will travel to Inman (6-4) for a quarterfinal matchup next week. The Cardinals have finished as state runner-up and semifinalist the last three years. This marked the third straight fall Plainville defeated E-S (7-3) in the postseason.
“Guys came out fired up, ready to play,” coach Grant Stephenson said. “I am just glad we started fast.”
Plainville captured the ’17 contest against Ell-Saline in double overtime and won on a last-second field goal in ’18. E-S has battled injuries, including to senior all-purpose threat Sawyer Kramer, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 7.
“We have moved kids around a bunch trying to find the positions that’s best for them,” Ell-Saline coach Terry King said. “Physically, we are just not where we need to be to beat a team like that.”
In practice, the 6-foot, 225-pound Casey applies the wrap himself and doesn’t wear a pad, a process that takes around eight to 10 minutes. Casey has grown used to the brace in the last several weeks.
He can still deliver his signature one-handed catches. Casey is left-handed, so he carries the ball in his dominant hand. Casey has rushed for 1,230 yards this season.
“It’s not bad once I got used to it,” he said. “I was nervous, though, in warmups, I couldn’t catch anything, and well I am not used to that, so I just have to adjust to it and play my game.”
As well, sophomore end Draxtin Hovis has battled a similar injury since the season-opening win against Norton. Hovis suffered a re-injury in Week 9 versus Sacred Heart.
“He’s also got a finger that’s just really badly jammed,” Stephenson said. “And anytime it moves or bends it’s bothering him. So we just kind of same thing, put a big pad over it and tape it up just to keep it from getting hit any worse.”
Like Casey, Hovis requires five to 10 minutes before the game to get his right hand wrapped. The thumb remains exposed. Stephenson applied the procedure before Friday.
“We have got a towel, tape and then like a brace-type thing, and then a pad, and then tape,” Hovis said.
Hovis helped Plainville senior quarterback Jordan Finnesy deliver another signature game. A three-year starter who picked up a Kansas Wesleyan offer this week, Finnesy completed seven of nine passes for 118 yards with a passing score. He rushed seven times for a season-high 143 yards and two touchdowns.
“It helps me,” Hovis said. “Like it doesn’t hurt my hand when I hit something, and I can’t grab with this, so I can’t get called for holding.”
After Casey opened the game on a four-yard run, Finnesy found freshman Kyle Werner on a short horizontal bubble screen down the line. Werner took off down the sideline for a 32-yard gain.
“The name of the game is catch the ball and get vertical fast,” Stephenson said.
On the next play, Finnesy rushed 34 yards for a 6-0 lead.
“Stephenson had been talking about those last two (E-S) games all week, and talking about how he wanted us to come out fast, and we did that and it was awesome,” Hovis said.
After an E-S punt, Casey tallied a five-yard run for a 12-0 advantage. Then, the Cardinals stopped Ell-Saline on fourth-and-1 from the E-S 44-yard line. On the next play, Finnesy ran behind a block from Casey, found a seam, cut back, read the defense and raced 44 yards for a score.
“He has gotten certain blocks, and as he gets to the second level, there’s supposed to be blocks that he moves off of, depending on if linebackers overplay him, or if they seal it the way it’s supposed to,” Stephenson said. “But he’s doing a much better job with his vision, but then also just getting vertical.”
Then, senior Cody Crawford delivered a 30-yard interception return for a score. The extra point gave Plainville a 26-0 advantage with 4 minutes, 44 left in the first quarter.
“It was awesome,” Hovis said. “That’s when we kind of knew that if played our game, they are not going to compete with us.”
Casey tallied a 15-yard scoring run with 11:32 left in the first half. Earlier in the drive, he displayed his soft hands and footwork on a 4th-and-7 play.
Finnesy lofted a short pass that Casey bent down and caught near the ground, then turned and sprinted for an eventual 19-yard gain.
“Their backs are just quicker and better than we are,” King said. “I think tonight, I think we got blocked up better up front than we thought we were going to, too. Our secondary, and I hate to say this, but we have a couple of kids that are not very physical kids, and they are not very fast.”
Ell-Saline cut the deficit to 33-7 on a 29-yard scoring run from junior quarterback T.J. Morrical. Plainville quickly upped the lead to 40-7 after Crawford caught a short pass in the flat and scored a 20-yard touchdown.
“It’s been great, because he is one of the fastest dudes in the state obviously, and props to our wide receivers, too,” Casey said. “…They block, and they block hard. Give credit to them. Cody has been a tremendous player for us.”
Casey capped the first half scoring with a 1-yard run with 38 seconds remaining in the first half. He and Finnesy had just one second-half carry apiece.
“The Casey kid is just a big, strong kid,” King said. “We were in position sometimes to make the tackle, and we just didn’t get the job done.”