Wagoner head coach Dale Condict took a look at those defining moments one morning this week that brought his team from a 14-7 deficit with under two minutes to play to a 21-14 quarterfinal victory over Tuttle in the 2020 Class 4A playoffs.
He didn’t find many kids he still has around.
Right after Sawyer Jones found Chase Nanni on a 34-yard scoring strike that tied the game with 1:40 remaining, part of him figured overtime was coming.
But a record-setting defense was tested, and a three-and-out occurred. Braden Drake then scampered 72 yards with 24 seconds left, and the Bulldogs were two wins from another gold ball.
It all might not have happened had defensive end Fred Watson not done his part.
Watson made a sack of Tuttle quarterback Jayden Seebold on first down.
“It surprised me they’d go big,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it, but we came out in our speed package and I made a move on my guy blocking me and was right there.
“That was an emotional time. I thought we were going to lose, then we scored and I’m thinking ‘we got overtime.’ Then they try to score on us, and we stop them and end up scoring ourselves.”
And Watson is back for another shot, unlike those other contributors — as one of only two returning defensive starters, period.
The Bulldogs (8-3) head to Tuttle (11-0) on Friday night. The script has flipped. Wagoner was seemingly invincible heading into last year’s contest, escaped, then went on to win state. This time, Tuttle seems almost invincible, and Wagoner’s hoping the hosts don’t escape another loss.
“They threw the ball against us last year and didn’t have much success running the ball,” Condict said. “This year they line up more in power and jumbo formations and try to run over you and have been pretty good at it.
“But our rush defense has been one of our stronger points. We have to play great first down defense and not allow them to lean on us all night, and on the other side, be efficient offensively because you’re not going to score a lot on them. They’re as sound defensively as they were a year ago.”
Watson’s role is magnified as one of two returning starters. But he has this going for him.
He’s with Wagoner, a program with five state titles in 10 years, points brought up to him this week.
It got a laugh.
“Yeah, we are,” he agreed. “I think it’s going to be a tough night but I also think we can pull through. We’ve got a good line and we’ve been good against the run.”
They held Hilldale’s Eric Virgil, who finished with over 1,300 yards on the season, to 12 yards in a 37-35 win last week.
Like Wagoner, two others face rematches this week. But in both cases, the area team will be looking for atonement, not a repeat.
Gore takes on Woodland in Class A action. Woodland went up 24-0 on a young Pirates team last year before winning 38-18.
“They got pretty comfortable in what they were doing and we finally decided to start playing,” Gore coach Brandon Tyler said. “The good thing is, everyone who experienced that is back and hopefully we can build on what we’ve done.”
Gore, at No. 2 the highest ranked of the area’s teams, is 11-0 with every starter back. Quarterback Zane Craighead was thrust into action when the original starter, Weston Shanks, tore his ACL. Shanks would have been the lone senior to depart a year ago.
Craighead has directed a predominantly run offense. He has 708 yards in 10 games, just behind his go-to running back, Gunner Dozier, with 1,191. But steadily, Craighead’s passing numbers have grown, He’s 38-of-61 for 725 yards, 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Of that, 428 came in the final three games of the regular season.
Gore’s defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been scored on since an Oct. 14 win over Porter, 74-14, four games ago.
Meanwhile, in Class C, Midway heads way west, some six hours into the panhandle to take on Tyrone. The two teams met in Council Hill last year in a game that saw 20 touchdowns and a 78-68 outcome in favor of the visitors, who went on to claim the title two weeks later in the state’s smallest eight-man group.
Four missed two-point conversions and a safety were the difference.
“A couple of passing plays we didn’t connect on with the pressure on me,” said quarterback Geral Washington. “They also hurt us on a couple of kick returns.”
“They have a ton of speed, but different guys from last year,” said Chargers head coach Steve Corn. “They’ve got 20 guys they mix in and out, and they’ve built quite a bit of depth. We suit up 19 but really play only 13.”
The key in Corn’s mind is keeping that speed playing defense as much as possible.
“If we need to go fast we’ll go fast but for the most part if we get a lead we’ll consume clock and play keep away,” he said. “We don’t want them scoring at will.”
There’s also a travel strategy when you’re basically going from one side of the state to the other.
“We’ll drive halfway and stop in Watonga or maybe Fort Supply and do a walk-through to get the blood flowing and our minds on the game, then get back on the bus and drive three more hours,” Corn said. “Really the extra three hours is the major difference. It is what it is, but we’ll be ready when we get there.”
All three games kick at 7 p.m.