By Patrick Sheltra - The Hutchinson News
CONWAY SPRINGS - On its roster are 68 boys who call themselves Cardinals every week when they suit up for Conway Springs' football team, but it took just one bird to rearrange the pecking order in Class 3A.
Jaydan Bird, who pledged earlier this summer to play for the University of Oklahoma, ran for 187 yards and two scores on 26 carries as Conway Springs - itself the dominant team in Class 3A earlier this decade - dethroned defending state champion Garden Plain 45-25 at Shinn Field.
The Owls, who had won 25 straight games and had played in the last two state title games, were without star running back Daniel Capul, who was injured in last week's comeback against Scott City. But Garden Plain coach Todd Puetz didn't use his absence as a reason why his team lost.
"I think when one of your best players is out that always makes a difference," Puetz said, "but that's not an excuse for us."
Unless Capul himself could've cured the Owls' sloppiness and turnover woes, it's very likely the Owls would've met a similar fate. Garden Plain was penalized nine times for 52 yards and committed three turnovers to Conway's zero.
The roof began to cave in on Garden Plain in a 16-second span in the second quarter.
After the Owls got to within 14-13 on Antonio Dowdy's 35-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jacob Puetz, Bird started and finished the Cardinals' ensuing possession with an 80-yard touchdown run.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dowdy misplayed a high kick and tried fielding the ball after it bounced. He couldn't come up with it, but Konnor Fitts did at the Owl 17. Garden Plain's defense held, but Dustin Green's 30-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 49 seconds left in the half extended the lead to 25-13.
The Owls' reign as kings of Class 3A unofficially came to an end in the third quarter when it started the half with a pair of three-and-outs, an interception and a fumble.
Meanwhile, Conway Springs scored touchdowns on its opening three drives, getting a 35-yard run by Corey Sones and a pair of scores by Brill on runs of 22 and 16 yards for a 45-13 lead. Brill finished with 165 yards and three scores on 17 carries and was often the beneficiary of a crunching Bird block.
Most of Conway Springs' 439 rushing yards came on a simple play out of its single-wing formation in which it ran around right end and often had to beat just one man to get to daylight.
"They started keying on certain backs," Bird said, "and once they did that, we knew we could have them overpursue and we'd run to the outside."
Another historical footnote to this game was that it was Garden Plain which ended the Cardinals' 62-game winning streak on this very same field in 2005. But gaining revenge didn't serve as motivation for head coach Lelin George.
"We never looked at it like that," George said. "Garden Plain is a tremendous ball team and we're just glad we were able to come out on top tonight."