TULSA — Metro Christian’s defense had quite the reputation.
Hilldale’s isn’t too shabby either.
And in the end, an exceptional effort needed one last stop to overcome the only smudge on an otherwise masterful performance as the 10th-ranked Hornets held off the No. 4 Patriots 14-12 in a freezing Class 3A second round playoff game Friday night at Metro Christian Academy.
Metro quarterback Abe Anderson’s bomb on fourth-and-19 from his team’s 37 deflected off Jake Koenig in tight coverage by Dakota Holmes. Koenig zeroed in on the deflection, made the grab at the 20 and went into the end zone with 1:42 to play.
Anderson kept on the two-point conversion, ran off left tackle and was met heads-up by Matt Bargsten, and all that remained was Bradley Campbell’s safe snatch of the onside kick to move Hilldale (10-2) into the quarterfinals at home next Friday against No. 3 Seminole, a 52-27 winner over Heritage Hall in another second-rounder.
“Every time they got in their jumbo (package) they ran that play so I knew what was coming,” said Bargsten.
The Hornets seemed to know what was coming all night defensively. Anderson, part of a tag-team effort at quarterback all season with Alex Schmitz, led the Patriots on all but one second-half series.
He was 18-of-34 passing for 216 yards but had three costly interceptions, none of which hurt more than the first one.
Just after Anderson had capped a 59-yard march with a 3-yard run late in the first quarter for the game’s first points, Hilldale quarterback Chandler Puckett fumbled into the hands of Anderson on a third-down play at his own 13 with 1:12 to play.
On the very next play, Anderson threw a short toss in the right flat. Outside linebacker Jake Leybas was side-by-side with a receiver on the play and made the grab, but just as importantly, returned the interception 35 yards to the Hornets’ 48.
Puckett had his longest run of the game, an 18-yard scamper, and then later hit Holmes for 12 to the Patriots 12. Two plays later, Puckett found Justin Sanders for a 12-yard TD. Instead of a 13-0 hole, the Hornets were up 7-6 and Sanders, who once again helped spark the defensive effort at defensive end, had his first TD reception of the year.
“That was a game-changer,” Leybas, who also had a fumble recovery in the second half, said about his first interception this season. “I mean, their offense was about to take it to the house. That would have been tough.
“They have a great defense, but I think we found out who had the best defense tonight.”
Hilldale took that lead into the fourth quarter.and after Leybas had one of his two second-half sacks to force a Metro punt from its own 11, Puckett had his only two completions of the second half, a 10-yarder to Holmes on a third-and-7 from the 20 and three plays later, converted a third-and-goal with a 6-yard toss to Hunter Olson. Puckett’s second PAT kick made it 14-5 with 6:29 to play.
Hunter Woods’ interception with 5:04 to play looked like the game-ender but the Hornets went three-and-out, giving Metro one last chance.
“It was just a great defensive effort,” Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart said. “We gave up that one big play but came right back and got a big stop on the two-point try.”
Metro, which had shut out six opponents in 11 games, finished at 11-1. The Patriots held Hilldale to 67 yards of offense and pressured Puckett all night in the passing game. Puckett was 10-of-13 for 58 yards. Bradley Campbell, the Hornets’ 1,000-yard plus receiver, was smothered in double coverage all night and had just two catches for two yards.
“They’ve got a great defense,” Puckett said. “But ours came up big for us. We were struggling but we got what we needed to. The coaches called some great plays on that last touchdown drive and Hunter and Dakota came up big.”
Holmes also had the other interception off Anderson.
Metro’s top receiver, Danny Burke, missed the game after a knee injury last week against Okmulgee turned out to be a torn MCL. Still, Kirkhart handed it to a defense that had this one on its shoulders.
“Just an all-around great game by those guys,” he said. “It’s what you expect when you’re in the playoffs. Now we get to go back home for another one.”
And it will be the second consecutive quarterfinal trip for 18 Hilldale seniors. The Hornets lost to eventual state champion Blanchard in last year’s quarterfinals.