Cardinals struggle with turnovers, penalties in loss to Cowboys
In a 1A Western Slope League showdown Saturday night at Toby LeBorgne Stadium in Parachute between the Grand Valley Cardinals and the Meeker Cowboys, three early turnovers and a number of penalties did in the host Cardinals in a 34-7 loss to the Cowboys, who came into the game ranked No. 3 in the 1A RPI rankings.
With a packed house in attendance, the Cardinals held up defensively on Meeker’s first drive of the game despite allowing a 20-yard run on the first play of the game to senior running back Doak Mantle. Following the forced turnover on downs thanks to two incomplete passes from Meeker senior quarterback Logan Hughes, the Cardinals took over at their own 35-yard line looking to strike first in the showdown.
But just three plays later senior quarterback Jeff Holbrook, trying to do too much for his team in the moment, flipped an ill-advised pass while in the grasp right into the gut of Hughes, who raced 23 yards for a touchdown on the pick-6, giving the Cowboys the first score of the game. The ensuing 2-point try was no good, leaving the score 6-0 Cowboys at the 7:09 mark of the first quarter.
Getting the ball right back on offense, Holbrook and the Cardinals looked to make up for the mistake on the first drive, but four plays later, after a perfectly-timed pitch-and-catch from Holbrook to senior wide receiver Jason Schubert, Holbrook was picked off again while trying to avoid a sack as Meeker junior corner Stephen Walsh settled under the wayward pass for the Cowboys’ second interception of the game in the first quarter.
Following the turnover, Meeker marched 57 yards in seven plays before Mantle bulled his way into the end zone from six yards out. Hughes then found senior wide receiver Trapper Merrifield on the 2-point conversion, giving Meeker a 14-0 lead with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
On Grand Valley’s next possession, the Cardinals got off to a promising start on the ground as Holbrook rushed for seven before junior running back Jonathan Pena rushed for 12, but the drive would stall there, forcing the Cardinals to punt the ball back to the Cowboys.
Three plays after the punt, Hughes found Merrifield streaking behind the Cardinal secondary for a 56-yard touchdown before Mantle added the 2-point conversion, stretching the Meeker lead to 22-0 just under three minutes into the second quarter.
Grand Valley went three-and-out on its next drive, which gave the ball back to a red-hot Meeker offense. Eleven plays and 77 yards later, the Cowboys stretched the lead to 28-0 as Hughes found Mantle on a shovel pass from five yards out.
Desperately needing points before the half, the Cardinals put together a solid drive as Holbrook hooked up with Pena for gains of five and nine yards through the air, while Holbrook added runs of eight and nine yards, moving the ball deep into Meeker territory. Holbrook then found Schubert up the seam for 13 yards, but on the very next play Holbrook’s pass was picked off by Meeker senior cornerback Garrett Frantz, sending the two teams into the locker room with the Cowboys holding a 28-0 lead.
Coming out for the second half, Grand Valley received the kickoff and caught a break after the drive stalled due to a sack. Punting the ball to Meeker, Cowboys returner Jacob Pelloni muffed the punt, allowing the Cardinals to recover at the 46-yard line of Meeker, giving them a second life on the drive.
But the drive would go nowhere, ending when Holbrook was injured on a hit by a Meeker defender on a throwaway, forcing a Cardinal punt.
Taking over at its own 21-yard line, Meeker proceeded to march 79 yards in 13 plays, eating up much of the third quarter before Hughes found the end zone from 11 yards out, stretching the Meeker lead to 34-0 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
With the same score still holding up late in the fourth quarter and Meeker punting from its own 15-yard line, the Cardinals caught a late break to avoid the shutout as the snap on the punt was low, forcing Meeker sophomore Jacob Shelton to go down on a knee, giving the Cardinals possession at the 3-yard line.
Three plays later, junior quarterback Sam Gomez, who came on in relief for the injured Holbrook, plunged in from 1-yard out to get the Cardinals on the board. Senior Laytham Magana added the extra point, wrapping up the final score of 34-7.
With the loss, Grand Valley falls to 2-4 (0-2 1A WSL) on the season. The Cardinals will host Hotchkiss next Friday in Parachute at 7 p.m.