hilldale

Hilldale quarterback Caynen David had a career-high in passing yards against Wagoner, but the Hornets fell by a 37-35 count to begin the offseason  David is among nine offensive starters who will return.

 

Hilldale head coach David Blevins’ goal of his squad playing its best ball at the end of the year — common among most coaches but not always achieved — played out correctly for him.

The problem in that was, the season ended against one of the more groomed playoff teams in Class 4A over the last 16 years.

Defending 4A champ Wagoner had its own peaking pattern with just two returning starters, and the 37-35 win allowed them to avoid a first-round knockout for the first time since head coach Dale Condict got there in 2005 and made the title game.

Hilldale, 8-3, goes out in a first-round game for the first time since 2015. The Hornets missed the playoffs entirely in 2019 but has made the quarterfinals every other year since 2011.

“I thought we had our chances to get there Friday,” Blevins said. “We were at times a block away, a few calls away, and I think we’re there.”

Someone who “got there” over the course of the season, playing his best at the end, was junior quarterback Caynen David.

While Wagoner’s defense under former Hilldale assistant Ryan Keenom took away the run game and Eric Virgil, David was able to get the passing game on track. His 323 yards were a season-high as well as the 22 completions and four touchdowns. Three were to Brayson Lawson, who had a career-best 227 yards and three touchdowns on eight receptions.

David, who prior to Friday had never thrown for more than 200 in a game. His stats over the first five games netted him a quarterback rating of less than 70 in four of those. He finished the year with six straight over 100.

Prior to Friday, Lawson’s best this season was 92 on four against Broken Bow. His game-high in his career was 178 against Oologah as a sophomore. He finished with 428 receiving yards this season.

“He got better with reps and sure showed out Friday night,” Blevins said. “Brayson and him were able to develop chemistry as the year went on and Lawson was outstanding as well Friday night.”

David’s performance Friday prompted this from Condict: “The one player on their team that I underestimated was their quarterback. He was more elusive than I thought he would be. I really thought we’d be able to get some sacks on him.”

Lawson won’t be back. A four-year letterman and three-year starter, Lawson is just one of two seniors on the offensive side, the other being fellow receiver Jaxson Whittiker, who was also one of the area’s best kickers/punters.

But David will lead the group which returns.

“He’s just going to get better and more confident with another year,” Blevins said.

He’ll have a fully intact line that returns, some of which will be three-year starters, and a third-year starter at running back in Virgil, who finished with 1,385 yards rushing in 11 games.

The defense will need re-tooling. Defensive end Cason Albin set a school record with 20 sacks and 37 tackles for lost yardage. His 108 tackles was also a team-best. Two other losses come in the linebacker corps with Brayden Smithand Michael Oeser, both next in line with tackles at 79 and 78. Lawson, with a team-best six interceptions, is also in that group.

Alden Jenkins, a linebacker and fourth-leading tackler withy 73, and Evan Keefe up front will return along with two returning safeties in Jace Walker and Joey Myers. Lamarion Burton played at the other corner.

“It’ll be next man up in the key spots we have to fill,” Blevins said. “But like every off-season, it’s about getting better as a team.”

Some help will come from a freshman group that was 6-2. One of those, Jax Kerr, saw some time on the varsity as David’s backup. He’s 6-foot-6 and only 14. There’s also perhaps some freshmen off an eighth grade team that lost only one game in two seasons.

The 2022 season will be met with some intense travel. The Hornets remain with Fort Gibson, Poteau, Stilwell, Broken Bow and Sallisaw, but gain Ada and Madill while losing McLain and Muldrow. Non-district foes are Tulsa Edison, Tulsa Hale and Claremore.

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