The Big Rapids Cardinals and Tri-County Vikings entered Friday night tied in second place on the CSAA-Gold table. With Reed City securing the league title with their commanding victory, the battle between the Cardinals and Vikings was for outright second place. These evenly matched clubs went back-and-forth, with a late touchdown giving the Vikings a 30-28 victory.
Just sixty-eight seconds into the game, Big Rapids got on the scoreboard. Wil Strickler used his legs, maneuvering downfield for a 44-yard touchdown run. A missed extra point left the Cardinals ahead by six.
Early in the second quarter, Big Rapids expanded their lead. Strickler took to the air, pairing up with his favorite target, Jamal Strickland, on a 26-yard touchdown strike. Strickler and Grant Kidder connected on a two-point try, extending the Cardinal lead to fourteen. Tri-County would answer with a short touchdown pass from Tyler Tompkins to Stuart Gould. A failed conversion left the Vikings behind by eight, 14-6, at halftime.
The third quarter was all Vikings offensively. On the opening possession, Nate Lovell burst through the middle of the Cardinals’ defense for a 10-yard touchdown. As the quarter neared its conclusion, Lovell scored again, a 1-yard plunge into the end zone. This pushed Tri-County in front, 18-14, with twelve minutes to play.
As the fourth quarter started, Tri-County kept their foot on the throttle. Trent Behrenwald shot through the line, bolting downfield on a 74-yard touchdown sprint. The Vikings failed their conversion, keeping their lead at 10.
Big Rapids would not crumble, instead responding with two touchdown drives. First, Justin Gorczewicz ran in a 10-yard score. With 1:06 to go, the Cardinals took the lead. Wil Strickler used his legs on a 2-yard quarterback keeper, giving Big Rapids a 28-24 lead.
Tri-County took over on their own eighteen with 1:06 to play. On third and sixteen from their own twenty-five, Tyler Tompkins found Trent Behrenwald, who went 74 yards downfield. Behrenwald was brought down just three feet from the goal line. With just one play remaining, the Vikings went to the ground game. Nate Lovell would be the hero, as he ran to the left side, powering his away into the end zone from a yard out.
This victory gave Tri-County outright second place, their best conference finish since 2004. In their 2004 campaign, Tri-County finished in a three-way tie for the Western Waterways Activities Conference East title. The seven victories for the Vikings is their best since that 2004 season as well. Next week, the Vikings will square off against Manistee. Big Rapids will conclude their regular season against Alma, hoping to shore up a playoff bid with their 5-3 record.