Grove snaps home win streak, loses 33-12 to Collinsville

Grove's captains Case Hampton (left) and Dylan Johnson stand at midfield for the coin toss before Grove's game against Collinsville at Ridgerunner Stadium on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014.

Originally published at on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014

Grove faced a patient Collinsville squad and came short of victory Friday night, ending a three-game home winning streak.

The Cardinals won 33-12, gaining most of their yards on the ground behind quarterback Shawn Kocheski and tailback Blake Burd.

Kocheski carried the ball 12 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns. He attempted only eight passes and completed three of them for 24 yards. The senior quarterback didn’t pass for a touchdown but had one interception at the hands of Grove’s Spencer Dills just before halftime.

Grove’s Will Amos was has success passing Friday night. He completed 14 of 26 attempts for 90 yards. Amos was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season, but three of his passes converted first downs on Grove’s initial scoring drive.

Grove’s defense gave another gutsy effort. The Ridgerunners (3-3 overall, 0-2 in District 5A-4) had five takeaways against the Cardinals (5-1, 3-0) and coach Mike Loyd said he was pleased with their effort.

“The thing I’m proud of is the kids, they played,” Loyd said. “The defense was on the field too long against a very explosive football team. Senior quarterback, senior tailback and some people who can play. They didn’t go to the state semi-finals last year by mistake.”

Grove managed to score after only one of those valuable possessions; something Loyd said could have changed the landscape of the game.

“You gotta find a way to make plays, especially when you get the ball turned over at the other end of the field,” Loyd said. “You want to win games in this district, it’s a tough district. Those kinds of plays, you gotta get better at them.”

The first takeaway was a fumble Braxton Miller recovered at the Collinsville 21 yard line to end the Cardinals’ first possession. Grove went three-and-out and missed a field goal to give the ball back only two minutes later.

Then came Dills’ pick. Grove wouldn’t get a chance to mount a drive after that athletic play, tough, for the clock ran out on the first half and the Ridgerunners trailed 12-0.

The next takeaway came as Kocheski tried to convert on fourth down. Dylan Johnson flew past the offensive line and wrapped up the quarterback for a six-yard loss and a turnover on downs. Grove would pick up three brilliant first downs on passes from quarterback Will Amos but give the ball back in the same fashion it received it.

Jonson landed on a fumble in the third quarter and Javier Lara did the same with about 18 seconds left in the game. The latter turnover produced a nifty score, though.

Backup quarterback Austin Butler hit Dills on a big gain for 33 yards down the left sideline on his first play. The next play saw Butler roll right before firing a pass to Dills again, this time in the end zone with three seconds left in the game.

Dills was Grove’s leading receiver with five catches for 43 yards and one touchdown. At tight end, Johnson kept the Collinsville coordinators worried all night. He finished the game with two catches for 16 yards, but anytime No. 40 was on the field, Cardinals’ defenders heard about it.

Garett Sisco played the entire game at running back for Grove, his first full-game appearance there. Sisco had 7 rushes for 22 yards and his team’s first touchdown. He had one fumble, which came at the end of a controversial call. Even Collinsville’s lineman who recovered the ball stood still for a moment before realizing no whistle had been blown.

Collinsville was granted the ball, regardless, and Sisco would redeem himself on the next drive with a big gain for first down en route to his touchdown run.

With the win, Collinsville moved to the top of District 5A-4 with three wins and no losses. Tahlequah had a hand in the Cardinal’s rise. The Tigers beat Pryor 31-21, handing Pryor its first district loss and shaking up the standings.

Collinsville has a 14-point lead in the district standings over Pryor. Grove and East Central are the only teams without district wins. The Ridgerunners will travel to East Central next Thursday seeking to keep themselves a step ahead of the Cardinals in 5A-4.

Behind in the count

Seventeen comeback wins are either a reflection of Josh Holliday’s lion heart or an early sign of disaster for Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have the best record in the Big 12 (31-13 overall, 13-5 conference) but they have taken the strangest path to getting there.

“It’s been a weird season, man,” second baseman Tim Arakawa said. “We may be down, but we’re never out.”

Opponents beat the Cowboys nearly 2-1 in the first inning (+1.84 run differential) but OSU outscores its opponents at the same clip over the remaining eight innings. That means OSU’s starters are useless in the first inning, on average, but the team recovers by doubling its opponents’ score for the rest of the game. The real question is, why?

Rex Holt is in his 32nd season as the radio play-by-play man for the Cowboys on 93.7 KSPI-FM. He has called a lot of baseball games but he hasn’t seen anything like this.

“I don’t know if there is any rhyme or reason to it,” Holt said. “Baseball kind of has its quirks and every team is different. We haven’t gotten great starts, that’s for sure.”

Not that Holt is pulling his hair out over the deal, the booth has been good to his sweet locks. But even for OSU’s coaches, there’s only so much that can be done; it might be a problem only time can fix.

Underclassmen have started 21 of OSU’s 44 games and compiled a 3.93 ERA. They have won at an acceptable rate but it has been largely thanks to strong relief efforts. Pitching coach Rob Walton has is able to play the waiting game.

“They’re going to go through some growing pains and you’ve got to grow with ‘em,” Walton said.

“There’s a point where we’re going to have to put a freshman out there, and freshmen can be freshmen… 18- or 19-year-olds, overexcited, trying to do too much, trying to throw too hard.”

Luckily for Walton, his specialty pitchers, seniors Vince Wheeland and Brendan McCurry, have been incredible in relief.

They saved the season a year ago and they’re doing it again, trashing opposing batting averages at a record setting pace. In OSU’s series sweep of Kansas a week ago, McCurry set a school record with his 11th save.

He entire swath of pitches is untouchable. McCurry has an 0.53 ERA, giving up only two earned runs in 34 innings. Wheeland, meanwhile, sports a 1.46 ERA in 55 1/3.

“Rob Walton is a believer that you can win championships that way,” Holt said. “If you’re OK in starting pitching and you’re great in the bullpen, it’s a better formula than if it were the other way around.”

Certainly OSU’s coaching staff would prefer to see it’s young pitchers outlast the top of the order, but these guys are young, and Walton and Holliday get it.

“Everybody knows once they get through the first inning it a big relief,” Walton said. “Out here, that’s all at a higher level in their minds, you gotta find a way to get through it. Once they’ve got through it, they’ve really thrown well after it, they’ve thrown up a lot of zeros.”

For a while, freshman reliever Blake Battenfield was immune to the struggle. He pitched 27 shutout innings before he found out how far his fastball can travel in the wrong direction.

“You can’t just throw cookies in there or you’re going to get hit,” Battenfield said.

In a 16-6 loss to Texas Tech, the Cowboys used five pitchers and each gave up at least two runs, most of them to Adam Kirsch. He homered in the second inning against Tyler Buffett, got a three-run double in the third off Thomas Hatch, and added a three-run homer in the sixth off Mark Robinette.

In their next appearances, none of them gave up more than one run.

“The guy on the mound can dictate good hitting or he’ll dictate bad hitting depending on how well he is able to execute pitches,” Walton said. “Just like giving up the runs and then no hitting somebody for eight innings or no hitting somebody for six; there’s a reason for that; it doesn’t just flip flop that fast. It’s because the execution rate goes from one extreme to the other.”

Baseball is dictated by what happens on the mound more than any other position. So, when a team lacks a reliable starter, the batters absorb the pressure. Such is the case in Stillwater.

OSU has won nine games in the final two innings.

“The pitchers go out and compete every single day,” first baseman Tanner Krietemeier said. “So, if they give up a couple of runs in the first inning we can come back as hitters and score.”

Krietemeier is second on the team with seven home runs and 28 RBI, though he doesn’t identify as a power hitter. Lately, it has been a game of sacrifice for the Cowboys, anyway.

Holliday said he doesn’t care how the wins come, but he doesn’t dismiss the importance of a rally, either.

“I’d like to see them start every game better,” Holliday said. “But at the same time, you cannot deny a team’s ability to win.

“If a team is down 21-0 nothing in the first quarter of football and they rally back to win, everyone thinks that’s amazing. No one talks about the fact that you were down 21-0 in the first quarter; a win is a win.”

Ranked 9th nationally, OSU looks like a dangerous team from the outside. But this first-inning intangible may have a strong bearing on the postseason.

A year ago, the Cowboys faced tough pitching against Miami and Louisville and couldn’t get runs in late innings. That kind of thing can easily repeat itself, but don’t count on these players to see it as a burden, the feed off Holliday’s infectious winning attitude.

“That’s something that’s been in this program the last few years, late inning wins,” outfielder Aaron Cornell said. “I think it shows a lot of character, not giving up, I think that’s really good to have in Big 12 games.”

Green lifts OSU with walk off single in extra innings

Photo by Trevor Greer

Bring out the cupcakes, Oklahoma State nabbed another extra-innings victory in Stillwater on Tuesday night and gained momentum for the start of Big 12 competition.

The Cowboys beat Missouri State University 3-2 on a walk off single from Gage Green in the 11th inning. The hit scored Craig McConaughy from third base and sent the dugout into a wild, sugar-crazed celebration.

“Unless I passed out coming around third base, I wasn’t going to be stopped,” McConaughy said. “I had a feeling (Marty Lees) was going to send me, so I was excited to be the winning run.”

Teammates smeared chocolate cupcakes all over Green and Brendan McCurry’s face once they got back to the dugout.

McCurry was the winning pitcher. He threw three innings in the closing role, striking out the side in the ninth and 10th innings.

“When it ends like that, you couldn’t ask for a better ending to a game,” McCurry said.

Scouts clocked his fastball at 91 MPH, but his good stuff— slider, curve, changeup— came in around 73 and sent MSU’s batters packing.

“I had every pitch and I could throw it wherever I wanted,” McCurry said. “When you can do that you’re going to win.”

McCurry’s ERA is 0.56, sub-human for the middle of March.

The RBI that gave McCurry the win was one of two timely pieces of hitting from Green, who is batting .333 in his new role as leadoff.

His first hit was a single to center field that scored Aaron Cornell and tied the game at two to send it to extra innings.

“Another big hit for Gage, give the praise to him,” Cornell said. “He did a heck of a job today.”

The last-minute heroics may be a fan favorite, but for the majority of the game, OSU (17-8) seemed to be in a stupor at the plate.

Green said he didn’t let it bother him. This dugout operates as if it’s insulated from the scoreboard.

“Your confidence isn’t where you want it to be,” Green said. “You just have guys who know you’re going to get it done. They don’t care what you’ve done earlier in the game; they’re behind you.”

It was the 10th comeback win of the season. That may seem like a lot, but the Cowboys had 18 last year; it’s almost part of their identity on offense.

“That’s something that’s been in this program the last few years—late inning wins,” Cornell said. “I think it shows a lot of character, not giving up, I think that’s really good to have going into Big 12 games.”

OSU will host Texas Christian for a three game series beginning Friday to begin the first of 21 games against Big 12 opponents. The Cowboys were picked to finish second in the conference this year—the highest preseason ranking in the school’s history.

The team is tied for fifth with one win and two losses.


FreeMan No Longer

Photo by Jackie Dobson

Michael Freeman was on a different planet Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-8 left-handed pitcher strolled onto the mound in the ninth inning at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium with one thing on his mind, he said: baseball.

“He’s lying,” Delaney Scrivner said after the game.

Freeman was called on to close the game for Oklahoma State who had a 16-0 lead against Alcorn State. He looked shaky.

The first two batters sent his fastball to the outfield and another watched it whizz by for three straight balls. On a comebacker, Freeman mishandled the throw to second and allowed an unearned run to score from third; it was the only run scored on the Cowboys.

To be fair, Freeman was preoccupied.

After the game Freeman casually walked Scrivner, his girlfriend, onto the field behind home plate. In the light rain, he went down on one knee as Train’s Marry Me played over the loudspeakers.

She said yes.

“Never know what you’re gonna see,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “Guess it’s hard to pitch the ninth inning when you’re getting ready to propose to someone.”

Freeman’s teammates stood in the grandstands holding letters that spelled ‘Marry him’ while everyone cheered for the towering couple. (Scrivner is above 6 feet tall).

Freeman said he started planning a while ago.

“I probably started planning around Christmas… but I had to get through that last inning,” he said.

Laiken Knight and Kayla Gripe are friends of Scrivner and Freeman, they said they were brought on board a few weeks ago.

“For them two it was absolutely perfect,” Gripe said. “She loves baseball, she loves him. For it to be on OSU’s baseball field, there’s a lot of things she loves right there.”

Brad Pitt said it best as Billy Beane in Moneyball, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Sooners Bail On Bedlam

Chris Perry pins Derek Geiges

Oklahomans will tell you that any Bedlam win is a cause worth celebrating, but three bonus point victories tell the disappointing story of Bedlam on Sunday night.

Oklahoma State has a tight grip on the overall series, leading 133-27, yet the convictions behind Bedlam are so strong that fans turn out in large numbers each year to be part of the next moment in history. That’s why they were so upset when Sooners coach Mark Cody evaded three of the most anticipated bouts of the night.

First, he held No. 7 Jarrod Patterson out of the 125-pound match.

Then he kept No. 18 Justin DeAngelis on the bench at 157.

And finally, to the audible dismay of the 5,000 fans in Gallagher-Iba Arena, Cody moved former champion and top-ranked Andrew Howe up to 184 pounds, avoiding a rematch with defending champion Chris Perry in Stillwater.

Cody didn’t have much choice; injuries forced his hand. No matter, it sparked some objections.

“I couldn’t believe it,” OSU fan Jeremy McCrackin said. “I was disappointed to see he didn’t wrestle Perry. The fans pay good money we want to come out and see the best wrestlers get after it.”

It’s rare for the top-two ranked wrestlers of any weight class to face each other in the regular season, even more so for them to have a rematch and compete for rival schools.

The fans wanted it, the wrestlers wanted it, and Perry left no doubt; he wanted it.

“Yeah it’s frustrating, but there is nothing you can do,” Perry said. “I’m old enough now, too old—a fifth-year senior—and he’s old enough too. We’ve had people dodging us since we were little kids.”

It’s likely the viewers in FOX Sports TV-land wanted it, too. When OU’s Derek Geiges stepped onto the mat in place of the undefeated Howe, the screen graphics gave all of Howe’s information.

“I didn’t like the idea,” OSU coach John Smith said. “We wrestled him in Norman, they ought to give the respect to wrestle us here.”

Howe had nothing to be scared of; after all, he won the most recent meeting 3-2 in December. But the Sooners had a gap at 184 and Cody wanted to protect his shining star.

“Nobody wanted to see that match again more than I did,” Cody said. “And Andrew was excited about it, he was a little bummed out that I had to move him up.”

Howe handled his assignment at 184 with ease. He beat redshirt freshman Jordan Rogers 9-2. But Geiges got pummeled in his place. Perry did some harsh work on his right shoulder as he turned a chicken wing into a cheap tilt, and then finally, a pin at the 1:51 mark.

The other two mismatch weights ended in a pin and a technical fall for the Pokes, as well.

“I don’t think they’re scared,” Smith said. “And I know (Mark Cody), I don’t think he avoids things. They have their reasons.”

Eddie Klimara got his fifth pin in the first match of the night against Sean Williams (3:15), inciting the crowd to unlawfully loud levels and setting the pace for the wild night.

“I was excited to get a chance to wrestle Patterson, but they threw the other kid in there,” Klimara said. “That was fine, I felt good going into the match.

It’s OK, it’s still a match, still practice for Big 12s or nationals, so you just have to go out there and wrestle tough.”

Dieringer teched DeAngelis’ replacement, a 141-pounder, 18-2 in customary curly-haired, high flying fashion.

“He weighed in at 151 I believe,” Dieringer said. “I don’t know why they didn’t send out DeAngelis but I went out there and took it out on him. I got a tech for the team, couldn’t get the pin, he’s kind of squirrelly.”

Some of Pokes’ greatest assets ride the pine

Photo by Chris Landsberger

With so much orange expected to be on the baseball field this season, it’s easy to forget about the gray that’s on the bench.

Oklahoma State’s coaching staff is loaded with experience and is nearing its second season together. Manager Josh Holliday said he knows coaching staffs develop with each season much like players do; it’s a lesson he learned in his team’s unlikely postseason charge into the Louisville Regional last year.

After beating Miami and Bowling Green by a combined score of 14-3, the Pokes faced its biggest challenge of the season in the Louisville Cardinals—Big East champions who were bound for Omaha, Neb.

“Louisville’s staff had recruited and developed well for about 10 years now,” Holliday said. “That roster showed that they were a deep, well-put together team and, quite frankly, more than we were ready to conquer.”

It was a valuable lesson for the first time skipper, and it came in the form of a 12-3 loss. But it wasn’t the first such experience for assistant coaches Marty Lees or Rob Walton.

Lees had been to four Super Regionals in the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach with Oregon State. Meanwhile, Walton (OSU 1983-86) had led Oral Roberts University to nine NCAA Regionals appearances in his 14 years as coach.

“I know I certainly have great support, with Marty and Rob,” Holliday said. “What better coaches to start your career as a coach with because of the trust factor, I trust those guys so much because they know what they’re doing and that puts you at ease.”

Walton has himself worthy, not that there was much doubt about his ability. As pitching coach, it was his job to fix the weakening rotation midway through the season. It wasn’t an easy task when seven Cowboy pitchers gave up 19 hits in one game against Central Arkansas.

“We didn’t have a lot of arm strength but we had some guys who good pitch pretty good,” Walton said. “Depending who was at the plate, we had to match them up with the right guy on the mound.”

Then end result was a team that survived the Big 12 and a pair of postseason games despite having to come from behind in 20 of its 41 wins.

“We were putting guys in at situations where they had a chance to be successful, not just because we wanted to try someone out,” Walton said. “That’s when it started falling into place.”

It was the best recycling program in town. Walton had used starting pitcher Vince Wheeland in just about every possible game scenario, turning him into a specialist and developing his psyche along the way.

This season should be different. The coaches have room to experiment after securing a recruiting class that Baseball America ranked fourth nationally. The challenge may lie in giving each pitcher his due innings on the mound.

For now, that’s a welcomed problem in this bullpen.

“I think we have more options,” Holliday said. “The question will be, how do guys respond when given an opportunity?”

Layman, Hampton slam theory to the mat

Colby Layman and Case Hampton stuck around after Grove’s wrestling practice Monday to put coach John Henry Ward’s helpful hints to the test and slam each other to the ground a few more times.

Both wrestlers saw an opportunity to learn a certain standing takedown, and Ward stayed close by, coaching them through the attempt.

“I thought that if I got in here and tried to roll around and do some new things, then I could maybe have an arsenal,” Layman said. “To do more things out of a tie, stuff like that.”

Wrestling at 220 pounds, Layman doesn’t have the luxury of taking a simplified offensive approach into each match. He has to be able to defend against nearly every style of aggression from his opponent because so there are so many versatile athletes in his weight class.

“It’s really weird because you have guys who want tot shoot and take shots and you got guys who wrestle like heavyweights, guys who want to tie up with you and throw you from the clinch and bear hug you and just be big and smother you,” Layman said. “It’s good to just know what you’re doing. It will help you in the long run.”

This particular move is best fit for the heavy-handed foes who like to tie up.

From the clinch, the move has the wrestler step forward, first inside with his left leg and then out with his right in a swinging motion that sends the opponent tumbling down and ultimately to his back for a pin. The two Ridgerunners worked on it for at least half an hour while Ward called out guiding words between breaths.

“Get your hips down,” he said.

A couple of weeks from now, Layman and Hampton will have a new move from which they can keep building. Ward tells his wrestlers about the never-ending possibilities in a match, the many moves that can change even the most insurmountable odds.

He calls it a continuous cycle of improving; it can start to affect the win column.

“Case lost two or three matches at Miami that he easily could have won,” Ward said. “But sometimes it’s just a matter of learning how to win those close matches. When you wrestle heavyweights, one mistake can be fatal. Those other guys might be able to flip flop out of it, but with heavyweights, one mistake is all it takes.”

Between Ward, Matt Barnhart and Dan Davies, these Ridgerunner wrestlers have no shortage of full-hearted instruction at their disposal.

“Coach Ward is pretty much a guru, so you just gotta hang out with him,” Layman said. “He knows what he’s talking about, you just gotta listen.”

7 iPhones reported stolen at LaFortune Stadium, Grove seeks answers

LaFortune Stadium

Updated: Thursday, Nov. 13


No suspects have been identified in the reported thefts from Grove’s game with Edison Prep at LaFortune Stadium on Thursday, November 6, according to Tulsa Public Schools Police officials.

As of Thursday morning, TPS public information officer Dwight Jackson said no suspects had been identified, nor had officials discovered anything about the location of the seven stolen iPhones. Tulsa Police Department is not involved in the case.

The phones were discovered missing after Grove’s football team returned to the locker room to prepare for kickoff against the Eagles. The locker room was left unlocked and unattended in the few minutes Grove spent on the field before the game. Grove coaches reported the incident to TPS police officials but an investigation did not launch until Friday afternoon.

TPS athletic director Gil Cloud said the matter was addressed in a recent meeting of all TPS district police departments, and chief of police James D. Hill oversaw the appointment of investigators.

“We’re still trying to ascertain who was in that area during the pregame at a time when there are not typically a lot of folks there,” Cloud said.

Cloud said the searching strategies have been narrowed because of several varialbes, including the safety measure tken to shut service off to the phones.

“It would have been easier for investigators if the service would have been on because we could have tracked them through GPS, but I certainly understand their reasons for turning the phones’ service off,” he said.

When asked, Jackson said a successful search and recovery is hindered in part because police do not have serial numbers for the phones.

There are no security cameras at LaFortune Stadium, a venue that Edison and Memorial high schools share, but Cloud said cameras will soon be installed in the press box. This was not the first such incident to involve schools at LaFortune Park, though.

Earlier in the year, the Memorial baseball team had nearly all of its possessions stolen out of the locker room including gloves, bats, baseball and other equipment.


Originally published at on Nov. 10, 2014

An act of unsportsmanlike conduct marred Grove High School’s football game against Edison Preparatory School before it ever began and got Tulsa police started on a tricky investigation.

Seven Apple iPhones were reported stolen Thursday night from the visitor’s locker room at LaFortune Stadium, where the Grove players’ belongings were kept during pre-game exercises.

As of Monday morning, Tulsa Public Schools communication officer Dwight Jackson said none of the items had been recovered, nor were suspects listed. TPS Athletic Director Gil Cloud could not be reached Monday for additional comment.

The phones were discovered missing after the Ridgerunners returned to the locker room to prepare for kickoff. Coaches reported it to TPS security members at the stadium immediately after. Nothing was reported missing from the home team’s locker room.

“Tulsa Police Department and Tulsa Public Schools police are doing an investigation to try to track the phones,” Cloud said Friday. “It’s an unfortunate thing, we hate it for the kids at Grove.”

Officials will try to locate the missing phones by GPS. However, if service was turned off for those phones or the recovery service Find My iPhone was not made active, there is little that can be done.

TPS protocol calls for a minimum of six security workers to be assigned to the stadium for every varsity game and for them to lock and monitor the locker rooms, Cloud said.

Cloud also note TPS has a stadium manager stationed at each of its six playing fields for the duration of game days. He called into question the security at LaFortune Stadium and said the system was being reviewed for improvement.

Grove athletic director Will Jones complied a list of the missing items for police and TPS security to examine and expressed his concern at a system that left Grove’s team susceptible to such an act.

As of Friday afternoon, Leeland Ashley, public information officer for the Tulsa Police Department, said he did not have a report of the incident on file. Ashley said TPD was not called Thursday night after the incident was reported to the campus security and was not involved in any capacity. Jackson said an official report had not been filed because an owner of stolen property, or victim, had not personally reported the incident.

Concern from Grove Public Schools about how the situation was handled led to a flurry of activity and the official report and investigation of the case by late Friday evening.

Cloud said he expected results from the investigation to come by the middle or end of the week, and that if needed, TPS would consult with its in-house legal consultants concerning liability and the appropriate steps.

“It’s pretty blatant on the part of the thief, because we don’t mess with ‘em,” he said. “I guarantee we’ll have them arrested and taken to be booked, we just don’t mess with ‘em. We have had not a single problem at any of our nine schools and 11 junior highs.”

Afton’s fighting finish

Afton’s senior defensive back Casey Pendergraft walks off the field after the Eagles’ playoff loss to Cashion.

Cashion was the toughest second-round draw Afton could have received.

The Wildcats had bowled through the season much like the Eagles, but they had done so without a loss, and with more force.

It was, however, a difficult second round game for No. 2 Cashion, too.

With the only damaging loss of the season coming in the district-determining game against Ketchum, Afton had a better season than the books will show at 9-3 overall.

Through the first eight weeks, senior quarterback Cooper Mitchell lead the Eagles to a 7-1 record while outscoring teams nearly three-to-one. Thunder and Lightning, the coaches’ affectionate terms for running backs Anthony Garrett and Garrett Gains, struck every week.

The Eagles had won a handful of games by halftime. Coach Zach Gardner would respond to a question about his playmakers with excitement, “Which ones?”

Gains, Garrett, Mitchell, Casey Pendergraft, Ted Jones, Blake Wisdom, Nathan Coombes, Seth Miller, Briar Julian, Gabe Mustain, those are a few of the many impact players on this small team.

Only against Ketchum did Afton fail to give its typically strong team performance. And that loss set the stage for the cold night in Cashion.

“We chose this path for ourselves,” Gardner said. “I told them that. You beat Ketchum and you’re sitting at home hosting Hominy. That’s what we’d like but we didn’t do it.”

As for Cashion, Lynn Shackleford’s team is just as good as the books will show.

The Wildcats quarterback Matt Harman was up for weekly press awards after what he did in the first half. He had an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kaleb George and ran for a pair of scores. Cashion ended up with 446 yards to Afton’s 118.

Running back Dylan Kordeliski had 199 yards and two touchdowns, one for 70 yards and another for 5. The Wildcats were faster, more athletic than most of the teams Afton played in District A-7.

Still, Shackleford commended the Eagles for their grit. It was a team performance, for sure.

“I feel like I ended my high school football career on a good note,” Pendergraft said. “Coming from Welch to Afton, I became part of a family that probably never should have accepted me. They put me in the best position to win and I did everything I could for the team, I enjoyed playing for everybody. Family.”

Pendergraft is playmaker with an eager body language on the field. It’s never a mystery as to whether he wants to win. Same with Gains and others.

“I think this game doesn’t tell the true story,” Gains said. “We fought the whole time, we just didn’t get it done in the first half.”

Gardner’s post game address was direct and fitting for a team that had won in just about every way for 12 weeks. For some of them, it was the last time they would play for him, the last time they would kneel in the end zone and hang on his every word.

“You guys gave everything you had and nobody quit. Losing sucks, don’t get me wrong, but this is a lot better than walking off against Apache last year,” Gardner said. “You guys are competitors, you fought all the way through. If we can keep this thing going, we can get past this second round quarterfinal in years to come.”

Pendergraft related the team’s sentiments toward its leader.

“As big of a football fanatic I am, I’ve never met a man that tries to be best friends with every single one of his players,” Pendergraft said. “He loves everyone of us and treats all of us like family. He would do anything for us. If we were sick, he’d bring us soup’ that’s who he is.”