By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
COLUMBIA - The North Andrew football team rushed for 452 yards, and the Cardinals (13-0) shut out Bishop LeBlond in the second half to capture a 54-24 win the Missouri 8-man state football championship game at Faurot Field in Columbia Thursday.
The victory marks North Andrew's seventh state title in football and their first since 2016.
"It feels great," said senior guard and defensive tackle Aiden Miller. "I'm so glad to finally see everything I've done working out. You know, everything we've done. It feels good for it to finally pay off."
After the Cardinals forced LeBlond to punt on the opening drive of the game, North Andrew put up the game's first points with 8:42 left in the first, when senior Hayden Ecker scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
A successful two-point run by senior Andrew Goff made it 8-0 North Andrew early on.
LeBlond had the answer on their second possession, as senior quarterback Landon Gardner rushed for a nine-yard touchdown. A successful run on the two-point try by sophomore Carson Staggs tied the game at 8-8 with 7:39 left in the first.
LeBlond then recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, and took over at midfield. The Eagles drove to the North Andrew 15-yard line, but were stopped on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs.
North Andrew made LeBlond pay just one play later, as sophomore quarterback Braxon Linville took off on a 65-yard touchdown run down the sideline, giving the Cardinals the lead back at 16-8 with 5:41 to go in the first.
After another LeBlond punt late in the first, North Andrew put together another scoring drive. Ecker scored his second touchdown of the night on the first play of the second quarter, this one from seven yards out, and the Cardinals led 22-8 with 11:54 left in the first half.
LeBlond responded, as Gardner fired a 31-yard touchdown pass down the field to sophomore Jacob Winkelbauer to make it a 22-16 contest with 9:21 left in the second.
North Andrew's offense didn't skip a beat in the first half, scoring their fourth touchdown on their fourth possession. Linville scored his second touchdown of the game on a six-yard rush, putting the Cardinals up 30-16 with 5:12 left in the second.
LeBlond again had the answer, as Gardner led an 8-play, 73-yard drive, capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass to senior Jake Korell, to make it a 30-24 ballgame with 1:46 left until halftime.
Operating with two timeouts, North Andrew moved 56 yards on eight plays. On a second down play with two seconds left on the clock, Linville went back to throw, scrambled and eventually ran for an 11-yard touchdown run with no time left in the second quarter.
Linville's successful run on the ensuing two-point try gave North Andrew a 38-24 advantage at the break.
"For us to be able to take that momentum, that's what we were discussing heading into that," North Andrew head coach Dwyane Williams said. "We knew, 'Hey, no matter what, (LeBlond) can't get the ball back here. We have a lead, but we need to have some momentum coming' and that was a great momentum switch for us."
The Cardinals, with momentum on their side, got the ball to start the second half. On just the fifth play of the third quarter, Linville scored his fourth touchdown of the game, this one from 39 yards out, to put North Andrew ahead 46-24 with 9:57 left in the third.
Linville finished with a season-high 251 yards rushing on 26 carries and a season-high tying four touchdown runs Thursday.
"His decisions in the option game were fantastic," Williams said. "LeBlond was throwing a lot at us. Double setting the edge and bringing blitzers all over the place. So, for a young sophomore like that to make those right reads, make those right decisions...we call him a sophomore, but he's a junior. He started every game as a freshman and sophomore. He's a junior, maybe halfway to a senior."
LeBlond (10-4) struggled to move the ball for most of the second half, as the Eagles achieved just one first down on their first three possessions after the break.
North Andrew added one more for good measure early in the fourth, as Ecker scored from six yards out on a rush to bring the game to its final tally of 54-24 with 10:20 remaining.
In his final game as a Cardinal, Ecker carried the ball 32 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns. He finished a remarkable senior season with 2,203 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns. Ecker also finished the season with 81 total tackles.
"None of it happens without Hayden Ecker," senior center Jacob Chittum said. "He's an absolute stud. There's no words I can explain how good he is on the football field. Most of the credit goes to him as well. There's no fame to us without him."
LeBlond strung together a decent drive in the final 1:51 of the game, but Gardner was sacked by North Andrew's Payton Simmons on a second-and-goal at the five yard line with four seconds left to end the game.
Gardner finished his final game for LeBlond going 20-of-33 through the air for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 56 yards and a score on 15 carries.
Gardner finished his incredible season with 3,115 passing yards, 53 passing touchdowns to go with 1,387 rushing yards and 24 rushing scores.
"Want to give some credit to LeBlond and the great season they had and the fantastic job they did tonight getting prepared," Williams said. "They came out with some things we hadn't seen and they did a fantastic job up front. It was a battle in the trenches and we were expecting that. Our guys did a great job handling it. Credit to them. Great season on their part."
Senior Jake Korell led LeBlond in receiving Thursday with 11 grabs for 112 yards and a score.
North Andrew outrushed LeBlond 452-73, and outgained the Eagles in total offense 467-289. LeBlond was just 2-of-5 in the red zone and was 0-for-3 on fourth down.
North Andrew was a solid 7-of-10 on third down Thursday, which helped keep a lot of their scoring drives going.
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Full game broadcast