Bickett and new-look Cardinals working on bounce-back season

Aug. 26—CARRINGTON, N.D. — For the second year in a row, the Carrington Cardinals starting quarterback at the start of the 2022 season was not the quarterback at the end of the season.

In week four, Josh Bickett moved from wide receiver to quarterback, replacing Grady Shipman, who did the reverse.

"We were looking for a change," Cardinals head coach Kyle Smith said. "We were 0-3 at the time and we moved a lot of different kids around. That's when we moved Hudson Topp back into the backfield and we were just trying to change the whole chemistry of the team and both kids graciously moved into other positions and performed very well and showed their team leadership and their team-first mentality. That was a big part to turning the season around, those kids accepting their new roles and excelling at them."

Bickett said he did not expect to be the starting quarterback last year but he's happy to be under center this season.

Last year, the Cardinals went 3-5, which saw them go on a three-game winning streak over the last three games of the regular season. During that winning streak, they outscored their opponents 90-32.

"I think any time you get on a winning streak late in the year, it means you're playing much better football and you're peaking at the right time," Smith said. "I think that's great momentum heading into this next season, just getting that feeling of what it takes to win a close football game and how it feels to take care of the ball and play well defensively. So I think that's really big at carrying some momentum into this season."

Last fall, the Cardinals' season was dictated by who scored first, as they went 0-5 when giving up the first points of the game while going 3-0 when scoring first.

"It's very important (to score first) especially for our team because we use momentum a lot and when we get on the board first or stop the team right away and then get on the board it's huge just knowing that we have the lead and can protect," Bickett said. "We're also a run-heavy team, so we know we can keep running the ball and not force the pass."

Last season, Bickett, Shipman and Tate Wolsky combined to throw three touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

"Sometimes the best play is to take a sack and not just throw the ball away," Smith said. "I think a couple of those turnovers, I guess several of them were unforced, and we just need to ... make better decisions, know when to throw the ball away, know when to take a sack and that's gonna come with experience. Both of our guys are gonna have another year of experience under their belt. I feel real good about going into the season with those two."

During his sophomore season, Bickett played in all eight games, completing 52.5% of his passes for 534 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions. On the ground, he had 31 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Bickett also played defensive back where he had 17 total tackles and three interceptions. Bickett said his three interceptions came from his ability to watch the quarterback's eyes.

"Which helps when I'm also a quarterback myself so I can think, what would I be thinking right now, knowing what the quarterback might be thinking so just reading off that," said Bickett, who expects to play free safety this year.

Smith said his expectations this year are to compete in the region and make the playoffs.

"I'm hoping that we can finish in one of those top four region spots and get into the playoffs and then peak at the right time and hopefully make a run," Smith said.

The Cardinals are looking to finish at least .500 for the first time since 2020. The Cardinals are also looking to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2018.

Smith said he is looking for breakout seasons from senior running back Logan Weninger, sophomore running back McKade Zink, senior defensive back Jackson Schaefer, Shipman, junior running back Corbin Clifton and sophomore offensive tackle Cody Otto.

This season, the Cardinals open their season at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 when they welcome Bottineau High School.

"They're very athletic," Smith said. "I think they're gonna be built a lot like us this year where they're not overly big up front but they're very athletic. They've got good team speed in their backfield as well. I know one of their better running backs is back. They do have to solidify their quarterback position but they're well-coached and they're a very well-disciplined team. We're gonna have to come out of the gates and play really good football if we're gonna have a chance to win."