ELK CITY — Playoff football, like any football, is 48 minutes. 

And it’s not just how you finish, but how you start.

Here Friday night, second-ranked Elk City got the better of it for the first 17 1/2 minutes, and that was enough to fend off a spirited Hilldale rally, sending the No. 8 Hornets to another quarterfinal round exit with a 24-20 loss at Big Elk Stadium.

Elks fullback Levy Owens pounded his way to two early touchdowns, the first coming after a Hilldale turnover as running back Eric Virgil was stripped of the football after a 13-yard gain amid a scrum at his team’s 39. 

His second was a 3-yard scamper, and just like that, Hilldale found itself down 16-0 with 6:43 until half.

The Hornets (9-3) were without a first down until their fifth possession, going three straight three-and-outs after the early turnover.  A personal foul penalty got the first first down, putting Hilldale at midfield. 

Then, Jace Walker’s 12-yard run was the first of his three carries, getting to the Elks’ 23. Caynen David found Mason Pickering for 10 yards to the 13, and two plays later, Virgil scored on an 11-yard run.  That drive netted five of Hilldale’s six first-downs in the half.

The score 

It stayed at 16-6 until the fourth quarter when David found Lamarion Burton for 41 yards, Cooper Garbarino’s shoestring tackle saving a score on the play at the 5. But Virgil carried it in on the next play, and his pitch to  Walker out of the swinging gate formation on the two-point conversion made it a 16-14 game with 10:36 to go.

Hilldale coach David Blevins elected to try an onside kick, which the Elks recovered at midfield. The grind-it-out flexbone attack went 10 plays in just over 7 minutes, quarterback Austin Jones capping it on a 1-yard sneak.

Garbarino’s 8-yard run on fourth-and-5 to the 25 kept the drive alive, but the real grinding yards were by Owens, who finished with 92 yards on 27 carries. 

“It was tough,” Owens said, moments after repeatedly telling Hornet players to keep their heads up postgame. “There were times when we had our heads down. They were making good plays. Those big boys up front, they’re tough. They’re probably the biggest line we’ve faced all year. They made us work for it.”

It left guys like Hilldale defensive lineman Wyatt Branscum heartbroken, if not head-down.

“They were a physical football team,” he said. “We made some corrections at the half, but physically, they were tough.”

Blevins thought his team had the onside kick set up perfectly prior to the dagger.

“We had an empty middle for a squib and tried to get it past that one guy and hit him,” he said.

The Hornets weren’t done.

On a fourth-and-15, Virgil took the wildcat snap and threw deep to Burton, who hauled it in and covered 70 yards and a score to make it 24-20 with 2:53 to play. Blevins at that point elected to go for two, but again out of the swinging gate, Virgil took the snap, kept, and was stopped at the goal line. Hilldale was penalized a personal foul on the play, and the desperation onside kick from its own 25 went for naught.

“I thought he was over,” Blevins said of Virgil, the head coach adding he wanted to set up for a game-winning field goal down two instead of a shot at overtime down three with the sure-footed Cash Schiller, whose longest field goal this season was 53 yards, on the sideline.

Burton finished with four catches for 127 yards. 

Virgil, who needed 127 yards to break Mikey Winston’s season rushing mark of 2,140 yards, finished with 65 and 2,079. He among others will now move on to college ball.

“Time to keep moving forward,” he said.

Elk City finished with 243 of its 250 yards on the ground. Hilldale had 243 total yards.

“They’re good defensively,” Blevins said. “They were a lot faster than I thought they were. They played extremely hard, tackled well and we didn’t start out very well.”

Elk City will take an 11-1 record into a semifinal matchup against top-ranked Cushing next week. 

The loss was Hilldale’s 11th in school history in the quarterfinals, the furthest any Hornet team has reached in the postseason.

ELK CITY 24, HILLDALE 20

Hilldale06014–20

Elk City8808–24

Scoring summary

First quarter

Elk: Levy Owens 5 run (Owens run), 9:16.  

Second quarter

Elk: Owens 3 run (Cooper Patton run), 6:43.

Hil: Eric Virgil 11 run (pass failed), 3:42.   

Fourth quarter

Hil: Virgil 5 run (Virgil pitch to Jace Walker), 10:36.    

Elk: Austin Jones 1 run  (Cooper Garbarino run), 3:27    

Hil: Lamarion Burton 70 pass from Virgil (run failed), 2:53.

 

TEAM STATS

HillElk 

First Downs1317

Rushes-Yards32-9854-243

Passing Yards1457

Passes C-A-I10-17-01-5-0

Punts-Avg.4-263-36

Fumbles-Lost2-20-0

Penalties-Yards9-777-53

 

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: Hil, Virgil, 16-65 (2 TD). Jace Walker 7-48. Elk, Owens 27-92 (2 TD), Patton 14-68.

Passing: Hil, Caynen David 8-13-68, Virgil 2-4-77 (TD). Elk, Jones 1-5-7.

Receiving: Hil, Burton 4-127 (TD). Elk, Owens 1-7.

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