PLAINVILLE, Kan. - In Cardinal senior running back Jared Casey’s eyes, Plainville head coach Grant Stephenson continually exudes a cool and composed demeanor. Stephenson’s personality has permeated the Cardinals and led to back-to-back comebacks to open 2019.
Smith Center defeated Plainville 21-10 on Friday, September 21, 2018. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
“Probably the calmest guy that I know,” Casey said.
On Friday, Plainville’s offense had multiple drops and misconnected on several offensive plays early. The Cardinals trailed or were tied virtually all game. However, Plainville continued to focus on the next snap, stayed even-keeled and delivered a huge 21-14 home victory versus Mid-Continent League rival Phillipsburg.
Stephenson, in his fifth year as head coach, bit his cheek and held back emotions when asked about his personality. Plainville’s student council used Stephenson’s sno cone machine to raise money to help with medical expenses for an 11-year-old Phillipsburg girl who has recently fell into a coma due to a brain aneurism. Plainville’s student council ran the machine before and during the contest.
“I love football to death, but there is more to life than football,” Stephenson, 33-15 with the Cardinals, said. “And when I think about that little girl up in Phillipsburg, in the grand scheme of things, I want to win, I want to do good, but there’s life outside of football.
“And sometimes I’ve got to remember me screaming at a young man for messing up when he knows what to do right,” he added. “I just want him to learn, I want him to grow. … I know the boys want to do good. I want them to do good. Me screaming at them doesn’t always make things better. So I try to keep that stuff in mind.”
Phillipsburg, the defending Class 2A state champion, had its 14-game winning streak end. The Cardinals defeated the Panthers for the first time since 2011. As well, it marked Phillipsburg’s first regular season loss since Oct. 9, 2015.
Last week, Norton outgained and ran more plays than the Cardinals. However, the game was tied after every quarter before Plainville scored a game-winning touchdown late and forced a turnover.
“Honestly, it’s the dog in us,” senior quarterback Jordan Finnesy said. “Like we want it, and we want it more than anyone, and that’s what I love about this team. And we are never out of it, and we know that as long as we believe in each other, and we stick together, then we can do anything. The sky is the limit for us, honestly.”
A week later, Phillipsburg led 7-0 and 14-7 but Plainville tied both times. The Cardinals never led until Finnesy scored on a 15-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 8 seconds left. The extra point gave Plainville the final margin.
“We just kind of keep composure,” Casey said.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore Ben Hansen forced a fumble from senior Tyler Martin, and junior Parker Krob recovered. Hansen had played well, but missed a key catch earlier in the contest. Plainville, ranked second in Class 1A, moved to 2-0. Phillipsburg, No. 2 in 2A, dropped to 1-1.
The Panthers played without standout senior lineman Noah VanKooten (back injury) and junior fullback Clint Gower suffered injury in the contest and needed assistance off the field.
“Everyone played a part in this,” Finnesy said. “I would take my 11 over anyone – anyone, and honestly, I kept telling Ben after that pass hit his hands, I just told him to keep making a play, don’t worry about it, just move on, and that’s what he did at the end, and made a play.”
The game remained scoreless after the first quarter. With 8:04 left in the first half, Phillipsburg junior quarterback Ty Sides found junior Kagan Keeten on a 16-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-6. The Cardinals responded with a 25-yard scoring pass from Finnesy to Casey with 4:36 left in the half.
“They just had their big players make big plays when they needed to,” Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said, alluding to Finnesy and Casey. “That’s a great credit to them. It wasn’t just two guys. I mean, they had a lot of kids contribute.”
Casey, a four-year starter, delivered 13 carries for 93 yards and had seven catches for 96 yards and a pair of scores.
“Their desire and want and fire when they do get down – it bothers them, and I am glad, because it bothers me, too,” Stephenson said.
However, Plainville misfired often in the first half, including a drop and a slight overthrow on two separate plays that could have went for touchdowns.
“It gets frustrating,” Finnesy said. “But if you don’t move on, then it’s just going to keep happening, and that’s kind of what I have learned over the last couple of years that you just have to move on, play the next down.”
Finnesy was 3 of 10 passing for 32 yards in the first half. A three-year starting quarterback, Finnesy had struggled with his composure some in past years. This time, he remained calm. In the second half, he went 7 of 14 for 103 yards.
“I’d say hard,” Finnesy said of the mindset shift. “Because my sophomore and junior year, I kind of like, I don’t know if I was necessarily trying to do too much. And then when I’d make a bad play, I’d kind of get stuck in my head, and it’s pretty big to just be able to just get that out of there, and just be able to play football every down and not worry about it.”
In the third quarter, Sides scored from 1 yard out with 1:27 remaining in the quarter. Sides finished with 12 carries for 104 yards. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 76 yards.
However, the Cardinals again responded quickly. Finnesy was under pressure, though found Casey in the flat, who broke tackles for the 13-yard TD. The game was tied at 14 with 9:36 remaining.
“I knew it was going to be open,” Finnesy said. “He had beaten him all night, and I just kept missing. I was off for awhile, and that was a really big one to just get us going. After that, we knew it.”
Phillipsburg drove to the Plainville 17-yard line, but Hansen recorded a quarterback hurry and forced a fourth down incompletion. Keeten intercepted Finnesy, but Cardinal sophomore Anderson Dewey delivered a pick with 3:51 left and returned it to the Panther 48-yard line. Four Casey runs and a Phillipsburg penalty set up Finnesy’s winning score.
“They kept calling out speed option over there, and we weren’t running speed option all night,” Casey said. “We were running right up the middle. It seemed to work especially at the end of the game, and we just kept going.”
On the final touchdown, Plainville ran an empty set with Casey on the wide side of the field, where he was one of three receivers. The Cardinals had run the double-post play several times, and Casey had been open earlier in the game.
However, Finnesy overthrew Casey once, and another time the ball went off Casey’s fingertips. Phillipsburg keyed hard on Casey, and Finnesy saw an opening. Casey called FInnesy’s run “spectacular.”
“I kind of figured it was going to be open, but I didn’t want to be unnecessarily too greedy,” Finnesy said. “I kind of just waited a second, and then it opened up, and I just bolted.”