Cardinals pick up first league victory since 2018
After five years of waiting for a shutout, the Santa Clarita Christian Cardinals didn’t wait long to pick up another.
Hosting Desert Christian at Canyon High on Saturday in a Liberty League matchup, the Cardinals (4-2, 1-1) used a 26-point first half to push themselves to a 49-0 win over the Knights (0-5, 0-3) for their first win in league play since 2018.
“I’m very happy. That was a fun win,” Cardinals head coach Austin Fry said. “We had two key guys go out in the first series, and I think as a team, you kind of have two choices. You have a negative, like we’re gonna shut down, and then you have the positive, like, OK, we got to refocus and finish this game, and I felt like we did.”
Those two key players Fry mentioned were sophomore Joe Flanary and junior Noah Butler. And at first, it looked like those losses could create some issues. Cardinals quarterback Cayden Rappleye was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the first offensive play of the game, followed up by a 2-yard run from sophomore Timothy Tadler.
With his back up against his own endzone, Rappleye fired a pass over the Knights’ secondary to sophomore Eli Duhm, who completed the play and took it all the way for a 75-yard score.
“Basically, I just gotta hope that he gets the ball to me,” Duhm said.
That was the first of three connections between those two, including another touchdown, for 105 yards total.
“We started off a little shaky, but once we got that pass to Eli, it was a big explosive play for all of us, and it got the momentum and intensity up,” Rappleye said. “So after that, it started to get things to click on offense that weren’t clicking before.”
Rappleye tossed another touchdown pass later in the game to senior Carter Aispuro, who had two catches for 10 yards. The sophomore quarterback finished the game with 157 yards on 11-of-23 passing, adding 53 yards and a touchdown on nine rushing attempts.
Fry had been wanting to see his quarterback use his legs more throughout the season, and Rappleye was able to do so after opening the defense up with his arm. Even more help, though, were the short fields that the Cardinals’ offense was being handed. Starting with the second quarter, the Cardinals started drives in their own half of the field only twice, failing to pick up points on just two of seven drives in that time.
“I learned somewhere that the first quarter is all assessment,” Fry said. “Are we playing the same team we watched on film? Are we doing certain things that we game plan for? And so I felt like we started to get in a rhythm in terms of kind of adjusting our game plan, especially knowing we’re gonna have two guys out.”
Tadler had three total touchdowns on the day, racking up two on the ground with 41 yards on six carries while adding four catches for 19 yards and a score. One of those rushing touchdowns came after he had been tackled, but to the surprise of pretty much everyone at Harry Welch Stadium, stayed on his feet and ran the rest of the way to the endzone.
Nothing surprising, Fry said, for a tailback who plays well above his size.
“That’s the second time this year,” Fry said. “Against Villanova, he did the same exact thing. He’s just a smart kid. You know, you look at his frame and you’re like, ‘Dude, how is that guy playing running back?’ But he’s got the heart of a guy at [6 feet, 6 inches and 240 pounds] and he’s got the IQ of a football player that’s played a lot longer than he has.”
Duhm was just as impressive on the defensive end as he was on offense, intercepting two passes in the first half and totaling five tackles in the game, two of them for losses.
“At first, I was just kind of figuring them out,” Duhm said. “And then after that, once I figured them out, they used the same plays and I just knew what to do.”
Sophomore Marcus May got in on the turnover action in the second half, returning an interception 18 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Cardinals also had junior Jude Patton and sophomore Jonathan Boelter collect a sack each, while Aispuro had 1.5 sacks to go along with his four total tackles. Patton tied Duhm for the team lead with five total tackles while Boelter had four.
The Cardinals are on a run, having won three of their last four games – and it could be four out of five adding a forfeit. Their win in Liberty League play gives them their first league win since Oct. 26, 2018, a 48-12 victory over Vasquez.
“It gives us confidence, but the one thing we can’t do is let it go to our heads, because once it goes to our heads, not every team is like this, not every team plays like this,” Rappleye said. “So once that goes to our head, and we think, ‘Oh, we’re just gonna come out, smoke them,’ we’ll lose. So we just got to go back to work, work hard every single day and be ready.”
The Cardinals need to be ready for their next opponent. They travel to Vista Del Lago High School on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game against the Leadership Military Academy Wolf Pack, a team that is just 1-5 but is ranked 22nd in all of California for 8-man teams by MaxPreps.
The Cardinals, though, are ranked 26th, and Fry is looking forward to seeing what his team can do.
“Next week is going to be a good wakeup call,” Fry said. “Leadership, no matter who plays them, everybody comes away feeling like they just got hit by a train. And so finding a way to win, especially if we’re going to have a couple guys injured, is definitely going to be a tricky one. But it’ll really help us with, ‘Where are we really at.’”