By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Josh Blankenship took it for what he maintained it was worth all along.
But even he admitted he saw some plusses from Muskogee’s two halves of football against Bartlesville and Pryor on Thursday night on Creek Nation Field at Indian Bowl.
Muskogee battled Bartlesville to a scoreless tie then defeated 5A Pryor 14-6. You can chunk those outcomes going into next week’s regular season opener at Sand Springs. You can keep the momentum from some hustle and hard work.
“We wanted to see playmakers and to see if we could polish things up and get better,” the head coach said. “We have such a young offensive line, it was nice to see them grow from last week to this week.
“Defense is what I expect it to be. I don’t think we’re a complete shutdown defense because we’re not very big but what we hope for is to have some big hits, big plays and turnovers.
Check off all those objectives as met.
Gradually over the course of the evening, the offense got into a flow. In the opener, Cherry was 9-of-15 for 100 yards and was intercepted once. All but one pass was to Anthony King, who had 98 yards on those eight catches — including a 42-yarder on his first catch.
Tyriq Beasley, the 130-pound running back who has been battling turf toe, saw some action including an 11-yard run at the end of a drive that went from Muskogee’s 42 to the Bruin 23. His scamper came up just short of the first down. He wound up with 28 yards on four carries, then had 16 on two handoffs in the Pryor matchup, both touchdown runs.
In that one, Cherry again found comfort in King, who pulled in three receptions for 36 yards, giving him 134 on the night. Overall, Cherry was 13-of-21 for 146 yards.
“I thought we were hustling up to the line more the second time out and it just felt more in sync,” the sophomore QB said.
Cherry set up the second touchdown against Pryor when he escaped a rush and took off for 38 yards to the Pryor 15. He then hit Beasley for 10 yards before the latter scored easily on a 3-yard carry.
“I don’t want him to be a running quarterback but I want him to be a quarterback who can get out of a situation with his feet and create,” Blankenship said.
Playing off effort rather than scheme of the unorthodox 3-3 alignment, the defense shut out Bartlesville in that half, scattering four first downs. Safety Sammy Richardson had an interception of a pass tipped by linebacker Mackenzie McCall. Linebacker Noah Ashley had the biggest of several big hits, that one coming on a blitz that resulted in a 16-yard loss.
McCall had several big hits in the second game, as did Adonis Cole in a start at defensive end. Ashley had a fumble recovery for his second defensive turnover of the night.
“Coach is always telling us ‘family, family, persist, everyone has a responsibility and a job to do,” Ashley said. “We’re stepping up to do that.”
Pryor’s only score came on a 55-yard run on a reverse.
“The guys we had filling in at corner (for Bryson Bell and JyReece Vanhook) were young and held their own but if we were at full strength tonight I think we run down that reverse,” defensive coordinator David Heath said.
“That was really the only major bust. We’re seeing more depth, where we can move kids in and out and not hurt ourselves. And the best thing is the cover hasn’t been knocked off this (defense). Everything we ran tonight was base.”
That will change a week from tonight.
Kickoff for the opener is 7 p.m.
Game times for Muskogee’s football contests will shift from their customary 7:30 start on all but three road games.
Next week’s opener at Sand Springs is a 7 p.m. kickoff as is all five of Muskogee’s home games, beginning with Fayetteville, Ark., in week 3. The only 7:30 starts are Owasso Sept. 13, Sapulpa Oct. 17 and Jenks Oct. 25.