For four quarters Friday night, Benton was undoubtedly the better team in Midland Empire Contest.
The Cardinals (2-5, 1-4 MEC) did not turn the ball over, held one of the most productive offenses in the area under 300 total yards and did not allow a play of more than 40 yards in a 21-14 win over Bishop LeBlond at Eagle Stadium.
All of which would be insignificant, except Benton had not beaten an MEC opponent in more than three years.
“We made big plays when we needed to,” Cardinals coach Matt Tabor said. “When we needed a big catch or a big first down we got one. Defensively, we were way better than we have been the past three weeks.”
The Cardinals — who earlier this year snapped a 19-game overall losing streak — stopped their MEC skid at 20 games, but they did not even know it until Tabor brought it up after the game.
“All we did was work,” he said. “We don’t focus on those things. We only focus on things that are positive.”
Benton threw the first punch early, forcing the Golden Eagles (4-3, 2-3) to punt on their first possession before marching 72 yards on its opening drive.
Senior quarterback Dominic Hill got the Cardinals moving by converting his first third down with a 15-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Devon Burton.
Seven plays later, Burton hauled in another pass on third down — this time from his younger brother Cooper for a touchdown to put Benton up 7-0 with less than six minutes to play in the first quarter.
On a play they practiced just twice before, freshman Cooper Burton peeled out of a reverse and unleashed a 24-yard throw to a wide open Devon along the right sideline.
“We put the play in just yesterday,” Tabor said. “We have enough confidence because they’re good enough athletes to execute things like that on the fly.”
The Cardinals continued to stuff LeBlond, allowing only one first down in the first quarter and three for the opening half.
Benton extended the lead seven minutes into the second period on a simple screen pass from Hill to senior running back Rye’ll Dydell, who scampered 67 yards to make it 14-0.
The Eagles finally found a rhythm on their first drive of the second half, Patrick hauling in two more passes — including a 37-yard reception he stole out of Cooper Burton’s hands — to set LeBlond up at the Cardinals’ 14. Patrick finished with a game-high 146 yards on six receptions.
After completing an 11-yard pass to senior Quinten Obermier, Schanze dove into the end zone on third and goal from the 1-yard line to put the Eagles on the board. Senior T.L. Romesburg’s point-after try was blocked, leaving the score 14-6.
LeBlond got even less than two minutes into the final frame on a 1-yard plunge by Romesburg. Schanze found Patrick for the two-point conversion, shifting the momentum in the Eagles’ favor.
Benton was undeterred, and came right back down for the winning score.
Hill found Dydell for a 48-yard pass play, and a couple plays later hit Devon Burton wide open in the back left corner of the end zone to make it 21-14 with less than seven minutes to play.
“I was looking down a little bit, it was pretty close,” Burton said of his catch in the corner. “I was surprised I got in, but I managed to do it.”
Burton (six catches) and Dydell (three) each finished with 132 receiving yards and accounted for all three Benton touchdowns.
Hill was 8 of 16 for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
LeBlond nearly leveled the score again on its next possession, but Schanze’s fourth down pass from the Cardinals’ 23-yard line fell out of Patrick’s hands in the end zone, handing the ball back to Benton with 3:46 left.
“We had opportunities during that ball game that if you make them, it’s a different outcome,” LeBlond coach Tony Dudik said.
The Eagles forced a punt but had to give the ball right back after a three-and-out. They were granted a last gasp from their own 25 with 2:03 remaining, but the Cardinals dug in for one final stop to secure the win.
“We beat a quality football team tonight and I’m happy,” Tabor said.