By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes figured a three-possession lead at halftime would let them coast through the second half.
The Booker T. Washington Hornets had other ideas.
The Hornets outscored the Buffs by 23 points in the second half, and Luke Beasley kicked a go-ahead 25-yard field goal late in the fourth to give the Hornets a 47-45 comeback win against the Buffs on Friday at Hook Eales Stadium.
“It’s hurting them, and it should hurt them,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said. “They let one slip away.
“To come out and dominate the first half like you did and play like you did in the second half is not going to get it done. It’s not going to win a state championship.”
After the Buffs and Hornets exchanged touchdowns early in the third, the Hornets started their comeback with a six-play drive that ended in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Cordale Grundy to Anthony Walker to make it 45-31 Buffs. Following the kickoff, the Buffs took over at the 20, and on the first play from scrimmage Dalton Wood tried to dump a pass over the defensive line.
Wood had tried the same play in the first half and been intercepted, and the sequence repeated itself, with linebacker DeAngelo Young picking off Wood.
“They’re just athletic,” Wood said of Booker T.’s front seven. “They can move.”
Just 28 yards from the end zone, the Hornets continued a pass-heavy offense designed to gain yardage quickly without burning clock time. Four completions from Grundy moved the Hornets to the McAlester 1-yard line, then Grundy ran it in to make it 45-37 Hornets.
“We were just more focused in the second half,” Grundy said. “We came out flat in the first half and weren’t ready to play.”
Grundy also ran one in from 12 yards out on the Hornets’ next possession, which came after a botched fake punt from Caden Pratt. The score cut the deficit to 1 with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter.
The Buffs punted away their first possession of the fourth, but their defense then turned back the Hornets, a 49-yard field goal attempt from Beasley falling well short of the goalposts. But the Buffs’ second-half offensive struggles continued, and they turned it over when Wood couldn’t pick up 2 yards on a fourth-down fake punt.
Taking over at the McAlester 29, Booker T. advanced the ball to the 12, then Beasley connected from 25 yards out to put the Hornets up 47-45 with 3:43 left in the game.
The Buffs had one drive left to re-take the lead, and Wood connected with Mason Bumphus and Blakely Williams to pick up two first downs and move the Buffs to the Booker T. 34. Wood floated one over the top to Jarome Smith on first-and-10 from the 34, but Smith dropped it, and the Buffs moved no closer on second or third down.
Facing fourth-and-10, Cade Harkins escaped his coverage and got open in the end zone. Wood tried for the touchdown pass, but the pass sailed over Harkins’ head and out the back of the end zone.
“I can’t really read when I’m moving in the pocket,” Wood said. “I had to move from those guys, I was running when I threw it, and just too much power.”
McAlester dominated Booker T. in the first half, scoring five touchdowns in the second quarter. Caden Pratt started with a 20-yard pass four seconds into the second, then Harkins beat his man deep for a 24-yard score that made it 17-3 Buffs with 9:24 until halftime.
Deonta Owens’ 21-yard run pulled the Hornets within 7 — the play coming after Mason Bumphus intercepted a pass but receiver Arlando Johnson stripped him to keep possession and pick up 43 yards — but Smith scored back-to-back rushing touchdowns to push the lead back to 31-10. Wood then connected with Harkins again, who spun out of a tackle and took it 40 yards for the touchdown with 2:14 left.
Though being up 38-10 is certainly better than being down 38-10, the big lead may have been the Buffs undoing, as the team looked complacent and far less focused in the second half.
“It’s really, really frustrating right now,” Pratt said. “It’s probably one of the most frustrating times I’ve had in my career.”
A new defensive strategy by the Hornets may also have contributed to the Buffs’ second-half collapse.
“We were not going to blitz,” Booker T. coach Marvin Dantzler said. “We’re going to line up, and we’re just going to play football. Because every time we blitzed, it was either a bust or they hit us on a big play.”
It was the first regular-season game played on McAlester’s new artificial field, now known as First National Field. The Hornets’ win pushed both teams’ records to 1-1.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.