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Better late than never for KHS

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Jackets come from behind to beat inspired Mannford, 29-14

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    Mannford Pirates vs. Kingfisher Yellowjackets

Simply put, things appeared bleak in the first half last Friday night.

Kingfisher trailed winless Mannford 14-0 on the road and were an overthrown ball from being down three scores.

The Jackets appeared unable to stop the Pirates’ ground game, which was what they opted to do on 83 percent of their snaps.

Conversely, KHS could neither run nor throw effectively and appeared to be headed to halftime for a major gut check.

Then, in possibly a major turning point of the season, the Jackets drove 65 yards in the final 32 seconds of the half to cut their deficit in half.

They then largely controlled the second half to pull away for a 29-15 victory.

“Well, you want to win and you want to earn as many district points as possible,” said KHS head coach Jeff Myers. “From those standpoints, tonight was a success.

“But for us to come out the way we did and to get pushed around on both sides the way we did for pretty much the entire first half, it’s tough to be positive about that.”

Kingfisher did, in fact, get the win while moving to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in District 3A-1. And, with 15 points being the maximum district points a team can gain or lose, KHS now has 30 of those through two contests.

“I’m proud of the guys for making the adjustments we put in and coming out and earning the win in the second half,” Myers said. “But for a big part of that game, we didn’t deserve to win.”

Mannford entered the night having scored just 27 points through four games and having little passing attack of which to speak.

Despite being largely one-dimensional, the Pirates were effective early against KHS.

They drove 80 yards on their first drive and went up 7-0 on Aiden Jones 32-yard run, which capped a drive that chewed up 4:39.

On Mannford’s next drive, despite multiple penalties pushing the Pirates back, it went up 14-0 when Jones caught a screen pass from Nathan Winters and zig-zagged his way into the end zone.

That play came 41 seconds into the second quarter.

However, it wasn’t enough to wake up the Kingfisher offense.

The Jackets had just one possession in the first quarter and it ended with a turnover on downs.

The next two saw Kingfisher have to punt it away.

But - finally - with the Jackets’ season potentially teetering on the edge, something big happened.

First, the Jacket defense stepped up and forced a turnover on downs with less than a minute left, giving KHS the ball at its own 35 with 32 seconds left.

The first play saw Cade Stephenson hit his safety valve, Caleb Dick, out of the backfield for a gain to midfield.

On the next play, Stephenson flung a pass down the right sideline, one that Jarret Birdwell went over everyone to grab for a 38-yard gain.

After a Mannford penalty gave KHS five yards, the Jackets had enough time for possibly two shots at the end zone.

However, Stephenson’s extended scramble on the ensuing snap saw time run out. But the junior proved elusive enough to find Reese Hart wide open in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown play.

Asked if the touchdown drive to end the half was crucial for Kingfisher, offensive coordinator Micah Nall had another adjective.

“No, it was critical!” he replied.

The momentum didn’t carry with it immediate results.

The Jackets got the ball to start the second half, but were quickly forced to punt.

However, the defense was beginning to step up and force stops on third downs.

With 8:06 to play in the third quarter, the Jackets embarked on a four-minute drive that saw them begin to take over the game.

Stephenson found Clayton Abercrombie on two big pass plays and eventually scored on a 3-yard run. Clayton Abercrombie’s extra point tied the game for the first time since the third quarter with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter.

The Kingfisher defense got even better on the next drive as Jones was stripped and Riley Myers fell on it with 39 seconds left in the quarter.

With 10:08 to play, Kingfisher finally took its first lead of the game on Stephenson’s 35-yard run right up the middle of the Mannford defense.

“We finally started doing some of the stuff we expected to do when the game started,” Myers said. “Our execution was much better and I think we were starting to wear them down.”

Keaton Abercrombie bobbled the snap on the extra-point attempt, but recovered, rolled out and found Hart in the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving KHS a 22-14 lead.

After forcing yet another punt, Myers’ words were exhibited on the field.

KHS drove 67 yards and took 5:02 off the clock to put the game away.

Caleb Dick got his best runs of the game and Stephenson hit the younger Myers for a first down on a 3rd-and-5 play near midfield.

Stephenson chewed up some of the yardage with his own legs, but it was Dick who punched it into the end zone with 2:08 remaining.

“That was a big drive for us,” Myers said. “We converted a big third down, started to push them around more up front, scored and ate a lot of time off the clock.

“That was about as good as you can do and the perfect way to end the game after the way we started it.”

Stephenson was yet again the offensive catalyst.

He ran it 18 times for 134 yards and the two scores. He was 10 of 17 for 152 yards and another TD.

That hardly seemed likely after the KHS offense had just 15 snaps in the first half.

Mannford, meanwhile, snapped the ball 37 times in the first two quarters.

Thirty-two of them were runs as the Pirates netted 178 yards. They finished the game with 268 on 49 attempts.

Jones rushed 33 times for 174 yards, but was limited to 49 yards on 11 second-half carries.

Will Taylor and T.J. Parker led the defensive charge with nine tackles apiece.

Hart, Keaton Abercrombie and Alan Munoz added seven tackles each.

Wes Hine was in on five stops, including one for a loss.

Clayton Abercrombie and Dick caught three passes each. Abercrombie’s covered 69 yards while Dick’s amounted to 29. The junior added another 44 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“It took us a while, but we responded when we faced adversity,” Myers said. “We knew as coaches Mannford was better than their record suggested, but it’s tough to sometimes convince kids of that.

“I guess it just took about a half of football for it to sink in.”

After a three-week road swing, Kingfisher comes back home this Friday…for homecoming nonetheless.

KHS hosts Bridge Creek at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Bobcats are 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the district. They’re coming off a 37-6 win against Mount St. Mary.

“On paper, yeah, we should be able to handle them,” Myers said. “But if last week proved anything to us, it’s that football games aren’t played on paper.”