WEST CHESTER — The game of grit and gain on Friday between Bayard Rustin and Upper Dublin played out more than just a game of attrition as the Cardinals slowly bled the Golden Knights dry. In the 41-23 victory, the Cardinals outscored the Golden Knights 20-0 from late in the second quarter in both a stunning comeback and a moment of redemption for one player in particular.
Matt Thompson, who finished with three touchdowns and had the clinching interception late in the fourth, made his share of mistakes — he’ll be the first to admit that — but the way he rebounded in the Cardinals surging comeback is what legends are made of.
Jumping out to the early lead, little more than 30 seconds into the game, the Golden Knights look ready to roll. The Cardinals responded quickly, but on the next Rustin drive, Thompson missed his assignment on the 30-yard touchdown pass to put the home team up 14-7.
“We made stupid mistakes out there,’ Thompson said. “Right off the bat we got punched in the mouth, but we came back, like we always do.’
Thompson’s err brought the ire from the defensive coordinator up in the press booth, whose voice, if it weren’t for the soundproof glass, would have carried over the screaming Rustin crowd right to Thompson’s ear on the field.
“If you make a bad play you’re going to get a little bit of a yell, but now you owe,’ said Upper Dublin coach Bret Stover. “Don’t go put your head in the sand, go make a play.’
And boy did he ever.
After a fortunate Rustin turnover turned to Upper Dublin points late in the first half, Thompson caught a screen pass from quarterback Ryan Stover and went 63 yards to take the first lead of the game. And Upper Dublin didn’t stop there.
Stover capped a 99-yard drive at the end of the third with another touchdown pass to Thompson to take a two-score lead, and the Cardinals finally had some breathing room. Stover’s maturation came to the forefront in this game, specifically in the second half, thanks in large part to Thompson, who always seemed to be in position to bail Stover out when the quarterback broke from the pocket and needed an open man.
“We’re always on the same page no matter what,’ Ryan Stover said. “If it breaks down, he comes off his route and I know where he’s going to be.’
“We have great chemistry out there,’ Thompson said. “Whenever he breaks out of the pocket I know he’s looking for someone and I try to get open for him.’
None more prevalent than in the game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter did Stover need a connection. Rolling to his right, keeping calm with the massive Rustin linemen bearing down on him, Stover hit Thompson on the sideline, whose toes-in-bounds NFL-style catch couldn’t have been executed any better. Later, after a timeout, Stover hit Thompson on a crossing route to go up three scores with 3:30 left in the game.
“There was little time, they were down two scores, but they still had a chance,’ Stover said. “I kept saying in the huddle that we just need a first down, and if we scored there, we’d get it.
“And we did it.’
Rustin started their two-minute drill down the field, looking mostly for the long pass and a quick score, but Thompson, with the cherry on top, plucked an interception and came down with the game in his hands.
“As soon as I had the ball in my hands, I knew it was over,’ Thompson said. “There’s nothing better than to clinch a game for your team.’
As the playoffs roll on, the Cardinals have rallied around the idea of extending the season, playing one more game. Friday night was no exception.
“You go into this game thinking it could be your last time ever playing, it brings something extra to the table,’ Thompson said. “I’m not losing this game going home sad.
“If we win, we get another week, and that’s all I want.’