JENKS — For a half, Mother Nature and the breaks were all going Wagoner’s way in this Class 4A semifinal contest.
That all turned Poteau’s way here in the second half Friday, after getting picked on with the intermittent to heavy rain every time its offense hit the field in the first half. It stopped when the Pirates got the ball on their first possession of the third quarter.
“Thank God for that,” said Poteau coach Greg Werner.
Eight minutes, 28 seconds and 17 plays later, with the rain abated, the Pirates’ Jayden Martin’s 3-yard run capped what proved to be the game-winning 76-yard march. From there, Werner’s defensive unit put the Bulldogs in lockdown mode. Now, they’re Edmond-bound opposite Weatherford in next week’s championship game with a 7-3 win in tow.
Werner, along with his 12-1 squad, will get his second finals spot at the school. His other one came in 2013, before crossing into Arkansas to coach at Van Buren before last year’s one-season stop at Hilldale.
“It really came down to that long drive. They scored on it and we weren’t able to do that,” said Wagoner coach Dale Condict, his team finishing at 10-3. “Their defense really stymied us. They made us try to find ways to move the football and we couldn’t consistently.”
The Bulldogs led on a 29-yard, second-quarter field goal by Jaden Snyder when it came out to start the third quarter and went three-and-out. After taking over with 10:22 on the clock, Poteau faced a similar situation four plays in at their own 33, needing just one yard.
An executed fake punt pass from Easton Francis to Colton Williams in the flat at the 41 turned into a gain of 15 yards and kept the march going. Earlier in the game, a fake punt backfired, Drew Mills coming up with the interception that led to Wagoner’s only points.
“They’ve run a lot of fakes but that was one we hadn’t seen up to tonight,” said Wagoner defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom, who left Hilldale as its defensive coordinator when Werner left. “They took it to us on that drive.”
Mason Barcheers, who finished with 112 yards on 21 carries, had just under half of that on the fateful journey before Mankin finished it with 1:54 on the third-quarter clock.
All week, Condict’s concern, he earlier said, was slightly more about Barcheers than Poteau’s mammoth defensive lineman, 6-foot-3, 330-pound Vakameilo Tuifua. Both were impact players on defense. Tuifua drew double and triple teams throughout the contest. But Barcheers had several key stops and even when Poteau couldn’t move the ball in the first half, drug Wagoner defenders in a scrum for 16 yards on one play.
“Mason Barcheers is the best football player in the state,” said Werner, in his first year back at Poteau after one season at Hilldale a year ago. “He took over the game.”
No argument from Condict.
“If (the University of Tulsa) can’t find a place for him on their roster, then they ought to win a lot of games next year — and you can put that in the paper,” Condict said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached against.”
After the touchdown put the Bulldogs behind, Wagoner got two first downs on its next drive, a 5-yard completion from Sawyer Jones to Chase Nanni and on the next play, an 11-yard run by Nunu Clayton. But a tip-away by Jagger Dill covering Nanni on a third-and-7 led to a punt.
Poteau would eat up another five minutes. Wagoner got one more shot with 4:48 to play, aided by a late hit call on the punt return that set the Bulldogs up on the Pirates’ 34. But a fourth-and-4 pass by Jones for Snyder sailed out of bounds on the Poteau sideline near the 20.
“I’m rooting for Greg,” Condict said, looking ahead to the title game. “He’s a good man, a great coach, and he’s done this a lot of times and been highly successful. He’s lacking one thing on his resume and I hope he gets it next week.”
In the first half, following Mills’ interception off the fake punt, the Bulldogs collected three first downs on a drive, including a pick-up of seven on a fourth-and-5 keeper by Jones, who cut back inside on a sweep to the Poteau 15. Snyder’s 29-yard kick cleared the uprights, but Wagoner also had burned the last of its timeouts on the drive with well over half of the second quarter left.
The Bulldogs escaped trouble inside of four minutes to go when Pirates linebacker Ben Brooks sacked Sawyer Jones for a 13-yard loss at the 4. A 42-yard punt got Wagoner out of trouble, but Poteau was in business at the Bulldogs’ 46 with 3:02 to play in the half.
A 14-yard carry by Barcheers got the Pirates to the 31. But two plays later, Francis was met by defensive lineman Logan Cole, who was able to knock the ball loose before Francis could set to throw. The ball rolled behind Francis toward midfield and Cole, on his hands and knees, lunged for and recovered the ball at the Poteau 49 to halt that threat.
The second half, Mother Nature, and momentum, shifted sides of the field.
“I’m not sure about a shift, but give them credit,” an emotional Mills said after the game. “Sometimes it just doesn’t turn out the way you want it to.”
Weatherford (11-2) knocked off defending champion Tuttle 16-7 earlier Friday.
POTEAU 7, WAGONER 3
Poteau 0 0 7 0—7
Wagoner 0 3 0 0—3
Wag-Jaden Snyder FG 29, 8:44
Pot-Jayden Mankin 3 run (Jorge Martinez kick), 1:54.
First Downs 10 7
Rushes-Yards 40-161 27-100
Passing Yards 54 30
Passes C-A-I 4-7-1 5-11-0
Punts-Avg. 3-39 5-37
Fumbles 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-55 3-25
Rushing: Poteau, Mason Barcheers 21-112, Wagoner, Braden Drake 16-46, Sawyer Jones 8-45.
Passing: Poteau, Easton Francis 4-7-54-1. Wagoner, Jones 5-11-30-1.
Receiving: Poteau, Caden Warren 1-32. Wagoner, Chase Nanni 2-14.