OKLAHOMA CITY — Muskogee came in healthy, for the first time, and it paid dividends early.
Brandon Tolbert, playing his first game after being sidelined five weeks due to a high ankle sprain, rushed for two first-half touchdowns, then sat the second half as the Roughers played shutout football in the second half, defeating Putnam City West 42-21 in the District 6AII-2 opener for both teams Friday night at Patriot Stadium.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, freshman Latavion Johnson rambled through a wide hole in the middle and set sail on a 59-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Jamarian Ficklin connected with Kayden McGee on a 65-yard pass play early in the fourth quarter, and Johnson scored his second touchdown on a 6-yard run with 3:38 to play.
“Brandon did well but it’s still a high ankle sprain and we want to bring him back gradually,” said Muskogee head coach Travis Hill. “We had the better back for tonight in the second half and what I mean there, is when you’re coming off that kind of injury and come back after halftime fatigued and sore, it’s tough. Latavion was fresh, and he was huge in the second half. That big run got us going. “Maybe the best coaching decision I made all night was with those two at the half.”
Ficklin, another freshman who earned his first victory as a starter, was intercepted twice but had two touchdown tosses, one to McGee and another in the first half to Jayden Bell on a play covering 44 yards. Bell took it the final 10 after the catch and a 28-12 lead, which is where it stood at the half.
The outcome ended a 12-game losing skid for Muskogee (1-3, 1-0), dating back to week 10 of the 2019 season. The Roughers were 0-7 last year in the COVID-19 shortened campaign. The Patriots (0-4, 0-1) meanwhile, extended their run of futility to 28 games.
Muskogee also overcame an early deficit. Baylor commit Corey Gordan moved from receiver to line up behind center, took a snap and on a sweep, ran 78 yards for a touchdown with 10:50 to go in the opening quarter. The point-after kick was missed.
Tolbert’s first score came on a 17-yard run with 9:50 left. The 62-yard drive gave the Roughers their first lead in four games, 7-6. He later scored on a 10-yard run with 5:10 to go in the quarter to make it 14-6. That capped a quick three-play drive.
“It felt amazing being out there finally,” said Tolbert, who finished with 92 yards on 12 carries. “My ankle is a little sore, but I’ll take care of it tomorrow and be ready for next week.”
Johnson had 102 yards on eight carries.
Both of Ficklin’s interceptions came late in the second quarter.
Facing a third-and-3 from the Patriot 17 with just under five minutes left, his pass for Tolbert in the right flat was overthrown with daylight in front of the junior running back. On fourth down, Ficklin’s pass to Anthony Watson in tight coverage from Jordan Saylor was snatched by Saylor, who took it to the house on an 80-yard run.
“I’m still growing and learning, and I’ll learn from my mistakes, but coming off a losing season year, we took a step forward,” said Ficklin.
His second interception came after Ayden Kemp came up with one for Muskogee just before the half. The Roughers had 544 yards of offense to the Patriots’ 253. Take away Putnam West’s first score, and that difference looks even better.
“The defense played very well,” Kemp said. “I was just in position to make the play on the pick. “I’m proud of us. We’re family and as long as we’re family, we can prevail.”
They’ll need to cut down on penalties.
As a team, Muskogee had 18 for 151 yards. The Patriots had 12 for 101.
“Things were better,” Hill said. “But we’re still having problems doing things that defeat ourselves. But most of all, there were a lot of good things.
“When you see hard work render fruition, that’s a good thing.”
Muskogee will return home next Friday to take on Sand Springs.
MUSKOGEE 42, PUTNAM CITY 12
Muskogee 14 7 7 14—42
Putnam West 6 6 0—12
Put-Corey Gordan 78 run (kick blocked), 10:50.
Mus-Brandon Tolbert 17 run (Skyleer Onebear kick), 9:50. 3 play
Mus-Tolbert 10 run (Onebear kick), 5:10.
Put-Jordan Saylor 80 interception (run failed), 4:09.
Mus-Jayden Bell 44 pass from Jamarian Ficklin (Onebear kick), 2:00.
Mus-Latavion Johnson 59 run (Onebear kick), 11:44.
Mus-Kayden McGee 65 pass from Ficklin (Onebear kick), 11:45.
Mus-Johnson 6 run (Onebear kick), 3:38.
First Downs 20 12
Rushes-Yards 30-311 38-229
Passing Yards 233 24
Passes C-A-I 11-19-2 5-15-1
Punts-Avg. 1-45 3-34
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 18-151 12-101
Rushing: Mus, Latavion Johnson 8-102 (2 TD). Tolbert 12-92 (2 TD), Put, Gordan 9-99 (TD)
Passing: Mus, Ficklin 11-19-133-2 (2 TD), Put, Elijah James 5-15-24
Receiving: Mus, Bell 3-102. Put, Gordan 3-21.