Spirits are high in Cardinal Land. Big Red hit the practice field this week with plenty to be proud of.  The Cardinals ruffed-up the Liberty Panthers 23-15 in their season opener at home in Larry Ward Stadium. The contest provided  plenty of surprises including the third longest field goal in Cardinal football history.

Bridge City junior kicker Devin Bertrand’s third quarter 46-yard field goal ranks just behind former Cardinal A.J. Hecker’s 48-yarder in 2006 and Matt Bryant’s long standing 52-yard boot in 1992. 

Bertrand returned to the sideline and was greeted with a standing ovation from Cardinal fans.

Now it’s back to work for Big Red before traveling to Kountze Friday to take on the Lions.

“We’re working on fine tuning some things that we did well and improving on some things we can do better,” said Cardinal Head Coach Cris Stump. 

“We’re not taking Kountze for granted,” Stump said. “We’re going to go after them just like we did Liberty.”

Bridge City sophomore Cameron Dishon sent shock waves through the Liberty Panthers with an 85 yard opening night kickoff return. Devin Bertrand’s PAT was good. The Cardinals led 7-0 the first time they touched the ball.

Liberty would eventually recover to find a chink in the defiant Bridge City defense and tied it up 7-7 late in the second quarter. The Liberty sideline celebration was a brief one, cut short by Bridge City’s Cale Hyde.

With 58 second left on the clock, Hyde gave Liberty another shocker rambling 73 yards on the kickoff return. The PAT failed but the damage was done. Big Red carried a 13-7 lead in to intermission.

Defensively, Michael Hubbard had robbed  Liberty of a 13 play series with a crucial pass interception ending the drive. The Panthers managed just 64 yards rushing in the first half  and gave up 71 yards in the air. That would be the story all night as the Cardinal defense continually snuffed Panther drives.

Big Red engineered another surprise for the Panthers in the third quarter. One of offensive coordinator Josh Smalley’s favorites. Senior quarterback Josh Lemoine pitched to sophomore running back Luke Rhodes who tossed to Dishon for another big 73 yard TD. Bertrand nailed the PAT for a 20-7 lead.

Bertrand would boot Liberty again later in the period. He socked the amazing 46 yard field goal that arced across Larry Ward Stadium and soared through the cross bars for three. Cardinals 23, Panthers 7.

The Cardinal kicker worked hard in the off season. Bertrand also received special coaching from former Cardinal Matt Bryant, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 2005. Bryant holds the record for the second longest field goal in NFL history. He converted a 62-yard field goal as time expired in Tampa Bay’s 23-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006. The field goal was the second longest distance in NFL history, behind the 63-yarders kicked by Tom Dempsey in 1970 and Jason Elam in 1998.

“I was a little nervous going out there but kept my focus and remembered what Matt had taught me,” Bertrand said. “I knew as soon as I kicked it that it was going to be good.”

The Panthers would eventually put together a fourth quarter drive that ended with an 11 yard touch down pass with 1:33 left in the ball game. The two point conversion was good.

The buzzer sounded and the Cardinals had opened the curtain on the 2009 season by beating a big and talented Liberty Panther football team. 

“I was pleased with the performance of our guys against an athletic and very talented Liberty football team,” Stump said. “It was a great way for us to start the season.”