By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The Durant Lions ran 23 more offensive plays, but the McAlester Buffaloes put up 220 more offensive yards.
With Jarome Smith leading the way, the Buffs also scored 30 more points.
Smith rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns and added a 66-yard kickoff-return touchdown, helping the Buffs dominate the Lions, 59-29, on Thursday at Hook Eales Stadium.
“Very explosive player, and we have several explosive players,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said of Smith. “That’s what limits defenses. People start taking off on one, somebody steps up, and right now he’s been really stepping up and playing well.”
Down 9-7 midway through the first quarter, McAlester began its drive at its own 42-yard line, moving to Durant’s 23 on six plays and a penalty. Smith then broke off a 23-yard touchdown run to make 14-9 and give the Buffs a lead they’d never relinquish.
Smith added a 78-yard touchdown run in the second and 3-yard touchdown run in the third. His kickoff-return touchdown came following a 22-yard field goal by Evan Armour that put Durant up 3-0 early in the first.
“I was cornered, and I just really wanted to score,” Smith said of the kickoff return. “I just saw a lot of daylight on the other side of the field, so I just tried to make my way there. Once I did, it was just a little foot race.”
McAlester matched its explosive offense with a defense that routinely disrupted Durant’s dangerous passing game. Following Smith’s 23-yard score, the Buffs held the Lions to a three-and-out, getting the ball back on the McAlester 19.
One play later, Rhyln Stephens burst up the middle and took off down field, carrying it 81 yards for a touchdown and a 21-9 lead with 3:32 left in the first quarter.
“We had two busted assignments on defense, and one on special teams,” Durant coach Byron Cordell said. “Their opening kickoff returned for a touchdown was a busted assignment, and then both of their long touchdown runs in the first half were busted assignments.”
Though the Buffs’ secondary hung with the Lions’ receivers throughout the game, the defensive line and linebackers made the defensive backs’ job much easier. The front seven over and over forced Durant’s offensive line backwards, leading to five sacks and eight plays for negative yardage.
“We’ve gone up against more experienced o-lines,” Buffs nose guard, Riley Smith, who had one sack, said.
“Whenever you’re playing against somebody at a lower caliber, you just have to come out and stay at the same pace you’re used to going.”
Because the Buffs scored three touchdowns on either the kickoff or first play of their drive, McAlester’s defense played far more downs than its offense in the first half. A tired defense helped Durant quarterback Zac Cater complete a 23-yard pass to Kooper Cavender on third-and-20, and two plays later Cater found Trey Hunt in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown pass that made it 28-16 Buffs with 5:41 left in the second quarter.
Caden Pratt pushed the lead back to 35-16 with a two-yard run on the Buffs next drive, then Pratt closed out the half with two touchdown passes late in the second quarter. The first, a 69-yard pass to Mason Bumphus, came one play after Cade Harkins intercepted Cater on fourth down.
“I had ran past him a play or two before that and I knew I could beat him,” Bumphus said.
“They kind of noticed that Cade and I have been getting a lot of interceptions here lately. They didn’t want to throw it as much, and I think that hurt them a lot.”
A three-and-out gave McAlester one last drive with less than a minute remaining in the half. Smith and Stephens moved the Buffs to their 36, then Pratt connected with Harkins on a post-route at about the opposite 30.
Cade dodged one tackle and took off away from Durant's other safety, eventually taking it all the way to the end zone for a 64-yard pass and a 49-16 lead going into halftime.
“When they saw our inside receivers doing a short route, they immediately drove up on it, and we took advantage of it,” Harkins said.
Coach Pratt added, “We’d been working in practice and trying to get the ball down field as much as we could. One thing that (Caden) did with that last one right before half is move in the pocket and he didn’t panic.”
Though the win improved the Buffs to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the district — Bishop Kelley lost to Shawnee on Thursday, giving McAlester the only undefeated district record — Caden Pratt left the game with a right ankle injury with 3:14 left in the third. Smith Though Coach Pratt said Caden probably could’ve returned to the game, the lopsided score made his return unnecessary.
“There’s no excuse for getting beat deep twice before the half by a running football team,” Cordell said. “There’s no excuse for it. A lot of credit to McAlester, but a lot of blame to us.”
Durant fell to 1-6 overall, 0-4 in the district.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.