It’s no secret that the Benton Cardinals have had a rough start to the season against tougher opponents. They entered Friday 0-6 facing a St. Pius team that beat them by 20 a season ago.

But Benton set the tone early and dominated all facets of the game in rout to a 36-6 win Friday night at Sparks Field on senior night.

It started out early as Malique Bennett intercepted St. Pius quarterback Jack Mosh on the opening possession of the game. This led to a field goal by senior Joe Ford to put Benton up 3-0.

Ford then forced a St. Pius fumble on the very next play, giving the Cardinals the ball inside the 30 yard-line.

One play later, senior quarterback Caden Stone hit senior wide receiver Mo Blakley in stride for a 27-yard touchdown pass, giving the Cardinals a 9-0 lead.

Stone said his offense was just taking what the defense gave them.

“We were playing for each other,” Stone said. “Doing our job and not trying to do anything extravagant. Just do our jobs.”

St. Pius finally started to move offensively later in the second quarter, getting the ball into the red zone. Benton corner Adrian Byrd ended the drive by forcing a fumble, the third turnover by St. Pius in the first half to preserve a 17-0 lead at halftime for the Cardinals.

The second half became the Chol Ater show.

Ater would score three touchdowns in the second half and four in the game. Ater had two on the ground and two receiving, an interception and a fumble recovery. Ater ended with 198 total yards from scrimmage.

“I was just playing the game I’ve loved since I was young,” Ater said.

A few weeks ago, Benton changed its offense to a spread style that saw them have success Friday, though head coach Kevin Keeton believes it is more about the players than the offense.

“It’s more than what we are running,” Keeton said. “It’s that our kids continue to fight. That was a tough six games, if you look at where those six teams are now. But I couldn’t be more proud of what this team has done, what they want to continue to do and who they’ve become.”

Every point was scored by a senior on senior night. After challenging his seniors earlier in the season to turn this team around, he was very pleased with their performance.

“As their head coach, it makes me very proud,” Keeton said. “Proud of who they are as people. Football is just a reflection of they are as people.”

Keeton echoed his quarterback’s hopes of the Cardinals (1-6) hosting a district matchup in three short weeks.

“That’s our goal. We want to host week 10, we want to play week 11. There are some people we would sure like the opportunity to see again later in the season.”

Chris Tenpenny can be reached

at chris.tenpenny@newspressnow.com.