Hayden Ecker

(Stanberry) -- The North Andrew Cardinals will play for an 8-Man state championship for the 12th time in school history and first time since 2016 thanks to a 42-22 victory over Stanberry in the semifinals. 

"I'm proud of them for their discipline," Coach Dwyane Williams told KMA Sports. "For this group of kids and seniors, to see the look in their eyes is pretty sweet."

The Cardinals scored 16 points in the first five minutes by capitalizing off a pair of Stanberry fumbles and turning them into touchdown runs from Hayden Ecker and Carson Thomas.

"That's what we've done all season," Williams said. "That puts us in a good spot. Especially when you play a team like Stanberry." 

The early touchdowns were the only of the half. North Andrew found the end-zone again in the third quarter when Ecker trotted in from a yard out to push the lead to 22-0 with just under four minutes left in the third. 

The next 16 minutes of football were wild with 42 points and high-drama between a pair of Grand River Conference schools with a storied rivalry. 

Stanberry cracked the scoreboard with a 19-yard touchdown run by Tucker Schieber to trim the margin to 22-8, but North Andrew responded with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Clayton Linville to extend the lead to 30-8 with 6:16 remaining. 

However, the Bulldogs only needed 25 seconds to respond, doing so with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Colby McQuinn to Tyler Schwebach to whittle the margin to 30-16. 

A miscue on the kickoff forced North Andrew to open their next drive on their own one. A bad exchange on the first snap of the drive put the ball on the ground in the end-zone and Collin Sager recovered it for Stanberry, making the margin 30-22 with 5:44 remaining. 

North Andrew failed to pick up a first down on their next possession and Stanberry drove to midfield before a holding penalty and a sack thwarted the drive and forced them to punt with just under two minutes remaining. 

Ecker's third score of the night -- this one from 69 yards out -- made it a two-score game. Ecker would add another in the waning seconds of the contest for his fourth of the night, and to bring the final score to 42-22. 

"It means a lot," Ecker said. "I've dreamt of this opportunity." 

Ecker finished the evening with 199 yards and four scores on 30 carries. 

"Everybody talks about the yards and how tough he is, but he's an even better kid," Williams said of Ecker.

Stanberry was led offensively by a stellar individual rushing performance of their own as Schieber rushed for 177 yards and one score on 33 carries. However, it was not enough for the Bulldogs, who end their season at 11-2 with both losses coming to North Andrew. 

With their win, North Andrew improves to 13-0 on the year and is back into a state championship game for the first time in four years. The Cardinals will look for their seventh state championship in school history when they face Southwest Livingston in Chillicothe next Saturday. 

While trips to state title games are nothing new to the North Andrew program, it is this roster. However, that doesn't mean they are feeling any pressure or entitlement. 

"We expect to have fun and compete," Williams said. "I've told the guys all week that if we got there, we were going to have fun. We are going to enjoy ourselves. We are going to practice hard and work hard, but we are going to enjoy it."  

A complete video interview with Ecker and an audio interview with Coach Williams can be found below. 

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