By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Moral victories don’t count in the standings, but rarely if ever does a losing outcome get a pep talk by an official.
Such was the case with chain crew chief Doug Fulkerson walked across Creek Nation Field at Indian Bowl in Muskogee’s home opener on Friday night to explain that the Roughers just, in his words, “put the fear of God” in the two-time defending Class 7A champs from Arkansas.
Considering this same school rolled to six touchdowns in as many drives in last year’s 55-14 meeting, style points had some value in what became a 27-22 loss to the Fayetteville Bulldogs.
And if you listen to running back Tyriq Beasley, the Almighty might have indeed had an assist in what became a furious fourth-quarter rally that leaves Muskogee at 0-3 but infused with a shot of energy heading into next week’s District 6A-2 opener with Broken Arrow.
The 130-pound sophomore running back finally begin getting some seams to run through and used one to go 33 yards to paydirt with 9:47 left to begin the surge, capping arguably the most impressive drive of the season so far, a five-play, 80-yard drive.
“We got with the line and prayed or whatever together at halftime to God to help make them better blockers and get some seams, some touchdowns and get back in the game,” said Beasley, who finished with 66 yards on 12 carries.
James Buckhanan then recovered an onsides kick and two plays later, quarterback Quintahj Cherry, as he did on several occasions once the run game opened up, took advantage of a safety playing up for the run and found Jy’Reece Vanhook (3 catches, 92 yards on the night) on a 44-yard touchdown pass off a fade, cutting the difference to five points with 8:52 to play.
Vanhook, a transfer from Tulsa McLain, had a 34-yard reception on the previous drive.
Two big defensive stops by defensive end Tracy Hughes forced Fayetteville to punt. Muskogee drove from its 9 to the Bulldogs 34, but Cherry was caught on a blitz, fumbled and despite a team recovery, the 17-yard loss forced a punt with 2:08 to play.
The Bulldogs collected two first downs, ran out the clock, and escaped the upset bid.
“I knew we had the potential and confidence in ourselves to put it together,” said Cherry, who was 22-of-28 for 236 yards. “That second half, we came out, fought and showed everyone what we’re made of.”
Maybe Muskogee head coach Josh Blankenship had a point when he insisted his team were close to doing this despite two lopsided losses to start the season. At times, the running game looked to pop something in the early going, but a holding penalty would nullify it.
“It’s an effort penalty,” he said. “A great block can be interpreted as a hold. I hate ‘em and they kill a drive, but it’s about fundamentals and not discipline.
“We told those guys, if they’re going to make a mistake, at least do it aggressively. And we were able to find creases for the first time in three weeks and that opens up some other things.”
Braydon Cook opened up the MHS defense for 136 yards rushing on the evening, including a 1-yard touchdown run late in the first half that sent the Bulldogs up 17-0. He also led the team in receptions (2 for 48 yards).
When Beasley fumbled on the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, Fayetteville quarterback Mitch Marshall quickly answered, hitting Blake Power for a 17-yard TD to make it a 24-0 game just 21 seconds into the third quarter.
An intercepted pass by Noah Ashley sparked the Roughers’ first score. Cherry found Anthony King for 20 yards and Buckhanan for 21 yards on a third-and-13 from the Fayetteville 21 to set up the quarterback’s 1-yard run to get on the board with 6:19 left in the third.
Cal Conway’s second field goal of the contest, this one from 42 yards, make it 27-7 with 11:06 to play.
Then it got interesting.
“We need to take a step every week,” Ashley said. “They came in and thought they would run over us. But, missed opportunities. We’ve got to go back and start again in the morning.”
Fayetteville departed 3-0. Muskogee has some momentum, and some props from guys in stripes.
FAYETTEVILLE 27, MUSKOGEE 22
FHS 3 14 7 3–27
MHS 0 0 7 15–22
FHS - Cal Conway 25 FG, 7:14.
FHS: Luke Rapert 5 run (Jon Fagg kick), 8:36.
FHS: Braydon Cook 1 run (Fagg kick), :42.2.
FHS: Blake Power 17 pass from Mitch Marshall (Fagg kick), 11:39.
MHS: Quintahj Cherry 1 run (Chase Soper kick), 6:19.
FHS: Conway 42 FG (11:06).
MHS: Tyriq Beasley 33 run (Ty Beasley run ), 9:47.
MHS: Jy’Reece Vanhook 44 pass from Cherry (Soper kick), 8:52.
First Downs 14 13
Rushes-Yards 36-118 27-86
Passing Yards 126 236
Passes CAI 9-15-1 22-28-0
Punts-Avg. 3-42 6-32
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 5-35 9-82
Rushing: Muskogee, Tyriq Beasley 12-66 (TD). Fayetteville, Cook 27-136 (TD).
Passing: Muskogee, Cherry 22-28-236-0 (TD). Fayetteville, Marshall 9-15-126-1 (TD).
Receiving: Muskogee, Vanhook 3-92 (TD), Anthony King 10-67, James Buckhanan 3049, Fayetteville, Cook 2-48.