ALBION — In 2001, Boone Central defeated Pierce in the Class C1 state championship game. It was the Cardinals’ first year of existence following the consolidation of Albion and Petersburg high schools.
On the night that team was honored by the school for its 20th anniversary, the Cardinals of today pulled off a little magic of their own. The No. 2 team in Class C defeated No. 1 Pierce, the defending C1 state champion, by a score of 35-33.
“It’s special. There’s a lot of pride in this community. There’s a lot of pride in this program,” Boone Central coach Mark Hudson said. “It just culminates a whole lot of hard work by these kids and keeping things going.”
It took an extra effort to do so this week. The Cardinals were without quarterback Braden Benes, who suffered a leg injury in their previous game against Central City. Hudson doesn’t expect Benes to be sidelined for very long.
In his place came junior Alex Christo, who hadn’t started a single varsity game and played in only two over the past two seasons. Even so, Hudson had a great deal of confidence in him.
“When I found out Braden was out, I put my arm around (Alex) and I said, ‘Man, you’re going to throw for a whole bunch of yards next week,’ ” Hudson said. “And he just smiled and looked at me and said ‘Heck yeah.’ ”
Christo completed 10 of 24 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. He also had a team-best 20 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown that ended up sealing the win. The junior went through a roller coaster of emotions in the days leading up to the game.
“Right away I was really excited about it and around Wednesday and Thursday I was getting really nervous,” Christo said, “But right before the game, my teammates were giving me encouragement. They helped me out, and I felt very confident.”
With the score tied at 14 in the third quarter, Pierce’s Abram Scholting had a pass picked off by Brant Benes. Four plays later with the ball at the Bluejays’ 38-yard line, Christo evaded pressure and then left his feet on a pass and found Cody Maricle on a short route. Maricle then took it to the house to give the Cardinals their first lead of the night.
On Pierce’s ensuing possession, Scholting was sacked on second down, then threw another interception on the next play. Not long after, Maricle pulled off another miracle, this time with a 30-yard touchdown run.
The black and blue would answer with a six play, 59-yard drive to make it a one-point game, but Keenan Valverde’s extra point was blocked by Parker Borer.
Following a Boone Central three and out, Pierce took over at its own 47 with eight minutes left. On the first snap, Scholting rolled out to his right and found a wide-open Kaden Johnson for a touchdown.
However, a trick-play pass on a two-point conversion from Colby Anderson to Ben Brahmer was stopped just short of the goal line and the Cardinals maintained a two-point lead.
After an exchange of three and outs, the red and black went up by nine points on a two-play drive. However, Scholting would find Brahmer on the next possession for a touchdown.
With 1:02 left, Boone Central had third-and-6 from its own 40. Christo took the snap and handed off to Maricle, who took it to the right side. After finding the perimeter, he weaved his way through defenders and gained enough yardage for the first down, completing a huge upset in Class C1.
Pierce took a 16-game winning streak into the contest, with the Bluejays’ last loss coming in the 2019 C1 title game. They hadn’t lost a regular-season game since 2017.
“A coach by the name of Nick Saban always says, ‘Don’t waste a failure,’ ” Pierce coach Mark Brahmer said. “We’ll go back tomorrow and really work hard in terms of our preparation for the next ballgame, as well as looking at and evaluating what we did well, ... what we didn’t do so well tonight, so that we can hopefully move forward and turn the page.”
Moving forward will involve getting past mistakes, including a season-high three turnovers that included two interceptions by Scholting and a fumble lost, plus three others that were recovered by Pierce. The Bluejays had just three all season before the game.
Despite the loss, Mark Brahmer kept a cool head and had a plan to get better.
“I’d never trade a Pierce young man for anybody. We’ve got to become a better practice team,” he said. “We took a step forward this week in preparation for them, but we’ve still got some work to do in terms of our overall focus and practice and our pace and the vigor and the spirit that we show in practice.”
Pierce got the scoring started when Scholting found Ben Brahmer for a 25-yard pass on the first possession of the game. Boone Central answered in the next quarter when Christo found Ashton Schafer to tie things 7-7, a score that would last through halftime.
In the third quarter, Pierce converted fourth-and-3 at its own 43, followed by a Matt Christensen touchdown run to give it the lead. However, Parker Borer took one in from 4 yards out a minute later to tie the game again.
The Cardinals hit the road next week to face Battle Creek. Meanwhile, the Bluejays return home to face O’Neill.
Pierce (4-1) 7 0 7 19 — 33
Boone Central (5-0) 0 7 14 14 — 35
PIE: Ben Brahmer 25 pass from Abram Scholting (Keenan Valverde kick), 9:29
BC: Ashton Schafer 3 pass from Alex Christo (James Fogleman kick), 5:20
PIE: Matt Christensen 14 run (Valverde kick), 8:23
BC: Parker Borer 4 run (Fogleman kick), 7:13
BC: Cody Maricle 38 pass from Christo (Fogleman kick), 4:56
BC: Maricle 30 run (Fogleman kick), 10:42
PIE: Michael Kruntorad 1 run (PAT failed), 8:52
PIE: Kaden Johnson 53 pass from Scholting (PAT failed), 7:50
BC: Christo 26 run (Fogleman kick), 3:40
PIE: Brahmer 2 pass from Scholting (Valverde kick), 2:26