Despite the Region 7AAAAA (B) setback, the prospect of the Cardinals remaining competitive in a six-point loss to the Yellow Jackets signified what coach Xarvia Smith hopes is a changing in the attitude and mindset of his players entering tonight’s final game of the season at home in a region crossover contest against Cambridge.
The Cardinals’ 17 points marked only the third time this season they recorded 10 or more points in a game, but it was the way the team put up those numbers that mattered to Smith, who utilized perhaps his youngest and most inexperienced lineup to date.
Osborne (1-8) even had a chance to win the game, driving deep into Yellow Jackets’ territory with just over a minute left to play. The Cardinals trailed 23-10 early in the fourth quarter, but an 18-yard interception return pulled them to within six with 9:31 remaining.
“I think the biggest difference for us between (the Sprayberry game) and many of our other ones was that I started five freshmen and two sophomores on defense for the first time and they played harder than I ever thought they could play,” Smith said.
The new players inserted into the lineup included freshmen — linebacker Craig LunDerek, cornerback Ayo Ashi, defensive lineman DeMarco Ruffin, cornerback Dashawn Nixon and defensive lineman Blake Nanje. Joining them were sophomore defensive backs Brian Ammons and Kyle Davis.
“They gave us a spark and played hard,” Smith said. “It was a great game plan, and the kids fought until the end.”
Backup quarterback Xavier Evans also played a key role in the game. In his first start, replacing former starting quarterback Kendall Walker who is no longer on the team. Evans threw for 148 yards and played every down, taking 148 snaps. He never came out of the game, and saw action at cornerback as well as on special teams.
As the quarterback, Evans’ effort threw the air produced Osborne’s first 100-yard passing game this season.
“Xavier never really came to the sideline,” Smith said. “That’s how bad he wanted it.”
Evans’ effort as well as those of his defensive counterparts is what Osborne is going to need to defeat to defeat a Cambridge (1-8) team that has scored 10 or more points four times this year.
The Cardinals faced the first-year program earlier this season, beating the Bears 20-0 on Sept. 21, and Smith knows this game won’t be as easy the second time around. Robert Cooks ran for 233 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals.
“It’s always tough to beat a team twice in the same season,” he said. “Cambridge is a much better ball club than they were when we last saw them. I don’t expect them to just give us the game because we beat them once already.
“This second time, they’re going to be even harder to beat, so we’re not taking them for granted.”
A victory in the final game of the regular season would be the first for Osborne since 2002.
“The big thing for me is that I want the kids to play hard for themselves, our school and our fans,” Smith said. “Last year, we had an opportunity to finish the season on a high note, but lost to Lithia Springs. If we find a way to pull this game out for the seniors it would be a blessing.”