By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes lost a huge offensive weapon when Buffs starting quarterback Dalton Wood left three plays into Friday’s game.
Replacement quarterback Caden Pratt, running back Jarome Smith and the Buffs’ defense rallied together to still give the Buffs a big district win.
Pratt threw for two touchdowns, Smith rushed for two more and the Buffaloes' defense forced five turnovers — including one on downs — to beat the Shawnee Wolves, 28-14, on Friday at Hook Eales Stadium in McAlester.
Of the Buffs' five turnovers, three came via an interception. Mason Bumphus picked off Shawnee quarterback John Jacobs twice in McAlester's end zone in the fourth quarter, killing back-to-back Wolves drives of at least nine plays.
Bumphus' first pick came on an attempted 8-yard pass to Don Murphy in the end zone, with Bumphus ripping the ball away from Murphy at the last minute. The second game on an attempted 28-yard pass, with Bumphus getting position on his receiver and leaping into the air to haul it in.
“The first one, I just let him go inside of me because I wanted (Jacobs) to throw it,” Bumphus. “I saw him rear back, so I just drove at it. He caught it, and I just took it out of his hands.
“The second one, I just covered him. I had him covered perfectly, and he just decided to test me.”
Following Bumphus’ second pick, Pratt and Smith combined for 53 rushing yards following the second interception to eat up most of the final minutes of the fourth, twice getting solid blocking from Blakely Williams on the far sideline to turn busted plays into positive yardage. And though
Pratt fumbled the ball away with 35 seconds left in the game, freshman lineman Graham Eaton sandwiched two sacks around a pass interference penalty to end the game.
Eaton had also tackled Brown 3 yards shy of a first on fourth down late in the first quarter. Another turnover came one drive later, when Rhyln Stephens stripped Jacobs on a run, then fell on it at the Shawnee 36.
“You can’t turn the ball over five times and beat anybody,” Shawnee coach Billy Brown said. “And then on top of that, don’t tackle — that’s kind of the wrong way to go about playing football.”
Cade Harkins added an acrobatic interception in the second, stepping in front of receiver Kendall Gilbert to bat a pass in the air, then diving to the turf to complete the interception at Shawnee's 38-yard line. The interception came two plays after Pratt found Harkins for a 10-yard touchdown pass that made it 21-7 with 1:41 left in the half.
“We were doing nothing but running it, and doing it pretty well, so they were obviously blitzing everybody that they had,” Pratt said of the pass to Harkins. “So the linemen just let them go and go block for Cade. I just lob it over, and most of the time it’ll turn out the way it did.”
Smith rushed for 279 yards Friday, breaking off a 65-yard touchdown run late in the first to break a 7-7 tie, then adding a 93-yard touchdown run in the third that made it 28-7 McAlester. The first time, Smith got the benefit of a huge downfield block from receiver Zach Baugh, and the second time Smith tiptoed to avoid going out of bounds, then leaped over a Shawnee safety before sprinting into the end zone.
“It was a sweep, but I saw that they were running to set the edge real quick, so I just decided to go right up the middle with it,” Smith said of his first touchdown run. The second touchdown, he added, also came via a sweep.
Smith also scored on a 7-yard bubble pass from Pratt with 7:50 left in the first on the first drive of the game. Though he threw just six passes, Pratt rushed 31 times 119 as the replacement quarterback.
Pratt started all but three games last season at quarterback.
“We don’t necessarily practice that all the time, but it’s just the relationship that Jarome and I have, and all the linemen and the center,” Pratt said. “It’s hard to beat something like that whenever we took it as far as we did last year. That kind of stuff doesn’t just go away.
“I could not be more proud of our defense. They definitely won the game for us.”
Wood left the game after a busted run three plays into that drive, suffering what trainer Mike Baker called a tendon sprain in his right ankle. X-rays came back negative, Baker said, but with McAlester next facing winless Tulsa Hale, the Buffs may limit or withhold Wood next week to help him recover for bigger games later this season.
“Good teams handle adversity,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said.
“I was really proud of our defense, the way they played, and really especially proud of the corners.”
With the win, McAlester improved to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the district. Shawnee fell to 3-2 overall, 1-1 in the district.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.