By Matt Goisman
TULSA — Welcome back, Dalton Wood.
McAlester’s starting quarterback returned after a four-game absence, throwing four touchdown passes and rushing for three more to lead the Buffaloes to a 70-39 win against the Memorial Chargers on Friday at LaFortune Stadium in Tulsa.
McAlester outscored Memorial 28-0 through the first two plays of the second quarter, quickly putting the Chargers so far behind they had to go with a high-speed, high-risk offense that failed to move the ball at least as often as it led to positive yardage. The Chargers ran 103 total plays, 33 more than McAlester and by far the most of any Buffs opponent this season, but they averaged 2.1 fewer yards per play than the Buffs and put up just 36 more total yards despite so many more plays.
“I don’t think it worked,” Chargers coach Ryan Reed said of his team’s strategy.
After the Buffs’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Chargers’ first drive, Wood led the Buffs 50 yards on five plays. A screen pass to Blakely Williams from the Memorial 23-yard line turned into a touchdown and a 7-0 Buffs lead with 9:26 left in the first.
On the Chargers’ second drive, the Buffs again forced a three-and-out. Three plays into the third, Chargers quarterback Trevor Boone and running back Kejuante Austin collided in the backfield.
Jarome Smith rushed in to jar the ball loose, Cade Harkins scooped it up and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown that made it 14-0 Buffs.
Touchdown runs by Smith and Wood pushed the Buffs’ lead to 28-0 early in the second.
“We played really well in the first quarter, and then turned around, gave up 27 (points) in the second,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said.
“It’s one of those things were you don’t know when to pull off, when to get your guys out. You’re worried about getting somebody hurt. I’m glad it’s over.”
The Chargers’ defense regularly tried to blitz Wood, stacking the box and sending multiple pass-rushers. That strategy stalled out several Buffs drives early in the second, but Wood eventually figured out how to beat the rush, throwing three touchdown passes in the second quarter, two of which went to Mason Bumphus on deep routes.
Though Wood ran the ball well and could move in the pocket, he said he’s still getting his timing back with his receivers. He completed just 39 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions, one of which led to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Boone to Keith Driver that cut McAlester’s lead to 56-33 Buffs early in the fourth.
Wood ended the ensuing Buffs drive with a 25-yard touchdown run. Taeam Kang, who went 10-for-10 on extra points, then split the uprights to push the lead back to 30.
“I knew we were going to have throw quick passes because they bring so many in the box and we didn’t have enough to block them,” Wood said. “They were fast, so I just had to move and get out of the way.”
The Chargers had some success running the ball, getting a 100-yard game and two rushing touchdowns from Mikequan Deane. But while Boone threw four touchdown passes, a physical Buffs defense kept him from completing more than a third of his passes and intercepted him three times.
Two of those interceptions led to touchdowns. One play after Rhyln Stephens’ interception, Wood connected with Harkins for a 51-yard touchdown pass that made it 56-27 Buffs.
“He was up pressing me, and I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I think I run good routes, and I think that’s how I get open,” Harkins said. He caught three passes for 144 yards.
The Buffs didn’t even need an offensive play after a fourth-quarter interception. After Riley Smith’s sack forced the Chargers into a second-and-21 from their 18, Boone bounced a pass off a receiver, Allen Woodmore grabbed it and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a 70-33 lead.
“I just caught the ball, saw an open field and took off,” Woodmore said. He added that was his first pick-six in his career, and it came in the final regular season game of his senior year.
McAlester’s pass defense looked particularly good on fourth down. The Chargers tried to throw for a first down eight times, and they came up empty seven times.
“We knew they were going to go for a lot of fourth downs plays, and our kids did a pretty good job,” Pratt said. He called this game “meaningless” to the Buffs’ district standings, then added, “There won’t be any like this any more.”
McAlester finished its regular season 9-1 overall, 7-0 in the district, and will play Tulsa East Central in the first round of the playoffs Friday at Hook Eales. Memorial finished 6-4 overall, 4-3 in the district, and lost a three-way tie with Skiatook and Bishop Kelley for the final two spots in the playoffs.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.