By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
The Ell-Saline Cardinals' maiden voyage into the realm of 8-Man football has gotten off to a remarkable start, as five games into the season the team boasts a 4-1 record, and a +56 point differential.
All of this work has come in spite of injuries to several key two-way players including QB1/S Kade Wilson, RB/NG Obed Ruiz, OL/LB Ryder Dent, and WR/LB Hunter Holmgren, who is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
“I feel bad for those guys but the kids that have stepped up to fill those positions have done really well in some big spots,” Cardinals head coach Joe Roche said. “These young guys are playing well in big minutes and we’re hopeful that we can gain some experience from this.
Wilson, who sat out last week's 36-18 win over Rock Hills, has gotten off to a phenomenal start, racking up over 1,000 yards of total offense in just four games.
The Cardinals signal-caller has completed 33 passes for 477 yards, seven touchdowns, and just one pick to add to a team-leading 71 carries for 538 yards and seven more scores on the ground.
Ell-Saline has spread the wealth on offense, with seven different players tallying 100 yards or more through five games, including star wideouts Joe Hiechel and Kas Kramer as well as the three-headed rushing monster of Marshall Johnson, Aidan Brockway, and Obed Ruiz.
With all the shifting the Cardinals have been forced to do, Ell-Saline has had a number of players gain experience in a variety of spots, something the team hopes will pay dividends later in the season.
“The strength of this team is in its versatility,” Roche said. “We can adapt on the fly well and we’ve been able to do that for many years here.”
The biggest tests for Ell-Saline will come in the next two weeks when the Cardinals travel to a perennial power in Clifton-Clyde (4-1) before returning home to host Washington County (4-1).
“We know that we’re going to have to play some big ballgames against two big teams,” he said. “We have to play smart football but the kids are doing well sticking to our game plans and not going off script and hopefully that pays dividends as we continue to stick to our process.”
While much of the football on the field has gone right for the Cardinals, Ell-Saline remains committed to improvement as the team heads into the home stretch of their season.
“Our inside run game could still use some work to gain more consistency,” Roche said. “Hopefully, that can balance out what we think is a pretty efficient passing attack. On defense we want to be tougher against the run, we know if we want to win big games late in the season that’s something we need to do better.”
As the Cardinals work to close the gap between themselves and the teams at the top of 8-Man DI, Ell-Saline also remains focused on their end goal with the playoffs fast approaching.
“We’re looking to make a deep run into the playoffs,” he said. “The last few years we’ve won our first round game but we’re looking to get past that. If we have our kids on the field where they need to be we’re a confident but not overconfident bunch, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Cardinals will be back in action on Friday, October 7 when they travel to Clifton-Clyde to take on the 4-1 Eagles.
For continuing coverage of Ell-Saline football, stay tuned to the Salina Post.