By Buck Ringgold
Courtesy SW Times Record
SPIRO – Perhaps it was fitting in a wild 3A-8 playoff chase, the Spiro Bulldogs were able to cause more chaos in the regular season finale.
Down 10-0 in the first quarter to Checotah, Spiro got three TDs from sophomore receiver McKinley Whitfield and the Bulldog defense was able to slow down the Wildcats’ high-powered offense as the Bulldogs came away with a 26-18 win Friday.
The Spiro win means both Stigler and Roland will share the 3A-8 championship, with Stigler getting the No. 1 playoff seed and the Rangers the No. 2 seed because of the Panthers’ head-to-head win against Roland. It also means Spiro (6-4, 5-2) and Checotah (7-2, 5-2) share third place in the district, and the Bulldogs get the No. 3 seed while Checotah – which could have claimed the No. 1 seed with a win – drops to fourth. At the moment, Spiro is set to play Hilldale on the road while Checotah goes to Sequoyah-Tahlequah in next week’s opening round of the 3A playoffs but it could change depending on the situation involving 3A-7 champion Sequoyah-Tahlequah, who had several players ruled ineligible and is awaiting a hearing next Wednesday to determine whether Sequoyah will be forced to forfeit wins, which could knock the Indians out of the playoffs.
“I’m proud of our kids and I thought the coaches worked a lot harder this week on the defense and made some changes and did some things that needed to be done,” Spiro coach Chris Bunch said. “I thought that was the difference.”
Spiro’s defense, which was challenged all week by Bunch following the Bulldogs’ loss to Roland last week, responded after the Wildcats took their 10-0 first-quarter lead. The Bulldogs forced four turnovers and eight punts while holding Checotah’s top receiver, Deondre Owens, in check.
Owens didn’t catch a single pass until late in the game, when he caught a TD on fourth down with 1:39 left. Owens also caught the subsequent two-point pass to cut Spiro’s lead to one possession. The Wildcats then attempted an onside kick and got it at midfield. But Spiro’s defense came up huge one more time, as linebacker Colby Demato intercepted a pass near his own 30 and returned it into Checotah territory with 1:11 left, and the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock.
“I’ll be honest with you, if we played like this last week, we would have beaten Roland,” Bunch said. “I really felt that way and I’m not taking anything away from Roland, but the defense played the whole time. The offense didn’t come to play in the first quarter, we turned the ball over and made some stupid mistakes and then I basically challenged them the second half and they hooked up and did a lot better job in the second half.”
Whitfield caught his first TD pass of the night with more than two minutes left in the opening half, a 28-yarder which cut Checotah’s lead to 10-6. Early in the second half, the Wildcats marched down near the Spiro 10 but fumbled the ball to the Bulldogs. Spiro then put together a 15-play 90-yard drive which ended when Whitfield caught a 5-yard pass from quarterback Trevon Mitchem on third down, giving the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, after the Bulldogs got the ball after forcing the Wildcats to punt, they got a quick three-play 60-yard drive which ended when Whitfield hauled in a 35-yard pass from Mitchem, extending Spiro’s lead to 20-10 with 8:14 left. It was Whitfield’s third TD, but Bunch was quick to praise Whitfield on the defensive side, as he was largely responsible for covering Owens. Whitfield also intercepted a pass in his own end zone to stop a Wildcat scoring threat in the final seconds of the first half.
After Whitfield’s third TD, Spiro forced another Checotah punt on the next possession, and after Knifeis Carter returned it 42 yards down to the Wildcat 16, Spiro senior tailback Jermaine Jimmerson ran it in on the next play, putting Spiro up 26-10 with less than seven minutes remaining.
“Give credit to Spiro, I thought they played a heck of a ballgame, especially defensively,” Checotah coach Brandon Turley said. “They got us out of rhythm, got us out of sync, and at the end of the night, it was also turnovers. We had a golden opportunity to start the third quarter to go up 17-6 and we fumbled it away. The kids fought to the end, we had a chance there when we got the onside kick, but we throw an interception there at the end, but I give credit to Spiro, they played a heck of a ballgame and I thought their kids played extremely hard and so did our kids, we just didn’t make enough plays to win.”
Checotah took the opening kickoff and drove down to the Spiro 12 before the drive stalled, resulting in the Wildcats sending in the field goal team. Kicker Jacob Campbell knocked the ball through from 30 yards out, giving the Wildcats a 3-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Later in the first quarter, the Wildcats recovered a fumble near midfield. Three plays later, Checotah upped its lead to 10-0 when quarterback Tyler Addy connected with Denver Berry for a 17-yard TD reception.
Spiro 26, Checotah 18
Checotah 10 0 0 8 – 18
Spiro 0 6 7 13 – 26
Che – Campbell 30 field goal, 9:33
Che – Berry 17 pass from Addy (Campbell kick), 2:33
Spi – Whitfield 28 pass from Mitchem (kick failed), 2:24
Spi – Whitfield 5 pass from Mitchem (Wilson kick), 1:48
Spi – Whitfield 35 pass from Mitchem (Wilson kick), 8:14
Spi – Jimmerson 16 run (kick blocked), 6:54
Che – Owens 39 pass from Addy (Owens pass from Addy), 1:39
First downs 12 18
Rushes-yards 17-32 44-165
Passing 278 162
Comp-Att-Int 18-49-2 13-18-0
Punts 8-39.4 5-37.2
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 8-2
Penalties-Yards 5-65 11-85
RUSHING – Checotah, Coleman 12-43, Casey 2-4, Addy 3-(minus 15); Spiro, Jimmerson 24-157, Walker 3-33, Farmer 1-0, Mitchem 10-(minus 7), Team 6-(minus 18).
PASSING – Checotah, Addy 18-49-2 278; Spiro, Mitchem 13-18-0 162.
RECEIVING – Checotah, Berry 4-68, Thomason 3-84, Casey 3-(minus 7), Cox 2-53, Owens 2-42, Stephens 1-18, Slaton 1-8, Blankenship 1-8, Coleman 1-4; Spiro, Whitfield 8-113, Jimmerson 2-26, Walker 1-13, Solomon 1-8, Rhoden 1-2.