By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
LUDLOW — The dreams of the Southwest Livingston Wildcats and their supporters to play for Missouri's 8-man football high school state championship for a second time died on the doorstep Friday night. Instead, the long-successful North Andrew Cardinals will get that chance for the first time.
The unbeaten NAHS Cardinals from Rosendale, 26-22 winners of Southwest Livingston at Ludlow just over a month earlier, on Friday made a more-definitive statement of their qualifications for a trip to this coming weekend's Show-Me Bowl in St. Louis, controlling, but not really dominating, Southwest's Wildcats, 40-6.
North Andrew's 1-2 punch of running backs Zack Officer and Quayde Bauman and better blocking easily overwhelmed Southwest Livingston's more-singularly-focused offense, in terms of consistent productivity as the Cardinals (12-0) scored first and never were less than two scores ahead after the early stages of the second quarter.
After Officer's 1-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion pass in the middle of the second stanza made it 16-0, North Andrew, the host Wildcats (10-3) tried to make a game of it.
They got what would be their only points on Ethan Crowe's 14-yards touchdown run around right end, utilizing an outstanding block on the edge by Mason Mehrhoff, with 3:03 left in the opening half. Southwest Livingston could not convert after the touchdown, however, and still trailed by 10, 16-6.
Southwest Livingston's defense then held for one of only three stops on the night and the Wildcats came close to really thrusting themselves back into the thick of things before halftime.
Regaining the ball at their own 15 with a mere 45 seconds on the clock, the Wildcats set three receivers wide – two to the right side – and sent senior Derek Montgomery deep down the left sideline in 1-on-1 coverage. Montgomery beat his man by a stride or two, but E. Crowe's long pass carried a few feet too far, just beyond Montgomery's reach by a stride. What might have gone for six points and brought the Wildcats within a score at intermission and owning huge momentum, instead was a mere incompletion as North Andrew carried its 16-6 lead into the mid-game break.
Receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, North Andrew demonstrated it understood that it need more scores to feel secure.
It got them as quarterback Nate Atkins, who had found Officer for a 9-yards score on a fourth-down pass for the game's first touchdown, hooked up with Austin Dalbey for a 28-yard touchdown pass to cap an efficient 4-plays, 42-yards scoring drive to begin the final half, and then Officer burst 40 yards on a cutback run off left guard to score one snap after Southwest Livingston had narrowly failed to convert on a fourth-and-10 try at midfield.
Page 2 of 2 - With the 2-points conversions after each of those scores, what might have been a 16-12 or 16-14 game at halftime had become a 32-6 budding runaway less than four minutes into the second half.
Adkins' quarterback sneak from a yard out with just over 8-1/2 minutes left to play completed the touchdown scoring of the cool evening.
Statistically, the game's score and stats reflected that, in nearly every circumstance, two is greater than one.
While Wildcats junior All-State quarterback/running back Ethan Crowe bruised his way to 160 rushing yards on 38 carries on the night, North Andrew's running-backs tandem of Officer and Bauman teamed for 270 yards on an equal number of carries, with Officer finding paydirt twice among his 23 rushes.
As a team, the greater balance of the Cardinals' dual running threats helped the visitors finish with 269 ground yards on only 40 total carries, while Southwest Livingston managed only 179 rushing yards on 50 totes.
Add on Atkins' two TD throws in four attempts and North Andrew's capacity to hurt the Wildcats in multiple ways easily prevailed over a SLHS club that was almost-totally dependent on E. Crowe. E. Crowe had 38 of his team's50 carries and threw all 11 of its passes. Of the 12 Southwest offensive snaps on which the ball didn't end up in E. Crowe's hands or get thrown by him, the Wildcats gained all of 19 yards.