The Pleasant Plains Cardinals showed up in Trenton on Saturday with a defensive scheme they hadn’t shown before, and Wesclin never saw it coming.
The Warriors’ deep ground attack was held in check, and Pleasant Plains advanced to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs with a 51-20 win.
“They were just too fast, too physical and too talented,” said Wesclin coach Ric Johns. “If we play a perfect game, we can be right there with them, but in the first half we were far from a perfect game. We could never establish anything offensively.”
Johns said the Warriors had prepared for the eight-man front it saw the Cardinals play on game film. With the middle stacked, he said, speedy backs K.J. Corley and R.J. Kattenbraker would find room to run on the ends.
But Pleasant Plains had enough size and athleticism up front to handle the Wesclin line and leave an extra defensive back to cover the ends.
Corley managed to break runs of 20 and 46 yards during the game, the second of which resulted in a touchdown. Senior quarterback Josh DeMage found daylight in the first quarter and ran 37 yards for a score off an option.
Otherwise, the Warriors were held to 46 yards rushing. Gavin Billbruck, who led Wesclin with 1,183 yards and 15 scores during the regular season, got just seven carries for 22 yards Saturday.
“We anticipated an eight man front, and they gave us a seven man front,” Johns said. “They were good enough inside to play us straight up, and they played four defensive backs, which they really haven’t done all year. They did a really good job on our perimeter play and stopped us inside, too.”
DeMage connected with Caidin Schrage on a 7-yard pass to close out the scoring for Wesclin, but not before Pleasant Plains had amassed 429 yards of offense.
After the DeMage touchdown run, the Cardinals scored 31 unanswered points. They led 39-13 at halftime.
Lucas Western racked up 69 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries for Pleasant Plains, and quarterback Ben Reinert finished 8 of 14 for 132 yards and two touchdown passes.
But it was Nik Samson, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior, who led the way for Pleasant Plains. He had 171 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and his 37-yard rumble on the Cardinals’ opening drive set the tone for the day.
“There is no doubt about it, that was the best line we’ve seen all year,” Johns said. “It’s not even close.”
Pleasant Plains (7-3) advances as the No. 16 seed to a second-round game against No. 8 Newton (9-1).
The loss brought about a stunning end for the Warriors, who finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time in their history, and entered the 3A field as its No. 1 seed.
“Going into my senior year, I was hoping for something like this,” DeMage said. “We put in the work, the fans got behind us and it’s been awesome. It sucks it came to an end, but it’s been great.”