By Matt Goisman
NOBLE — Returning an interception for a touchdown and forcing a safety, McAlester's defense alone scored enough points to beat the Noble Bears on Friday.
That didn't stop the Buffs' offense from contributing six touchdowns.
Buffs quarterback Dalton Wood rushed for four touchdowns and threw for two more, combining with a dominant Buffs defense to beat the Bears in Friday's district-opener at Noble Stadium, 51-7.
“He made really good decisions,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said of Wood. “No picks, no turnovers, so you can’t complain. You keep playing good offensively and scoring points, and if we can keep playing defensively, everything’s going to be fine.
“For us to be able to talk about winning a state championship, we have to play defense like that and be able to get some stops, and they did that tonight.”
McAlester put Friday's game away by halftime, scoring 37 points and holding Noble scoreless in the first two quarters. Wood took the Buffs 68 yards in five plays to start the game, and with some solid blocking from receiver Blakely Williams, Wood hit Caden Pratt for a 21-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Noble responded with a 15-play drive, but McAlester's defense held at the Buffs’ 41-yard line, forcing a punt. Wood again needed just five plays to score, connecting with Allen Woodmore for a 32-yard completion on second-and-15, then rushing 24 yards for the touchdown two plays later.
Wood finished 12-for-19 with 207 passing yards and two passing touchdowns, also leading the team with 129 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He looked especially good scrambling out of the pocket and throwing on the run, something he said he’s been working on in recent practices.
“Just work on not putting so much power into it when you already have your momentum going forward,” Wood said.
“All their film from the past is pretty much all run. So we switched a few things up on defense to stop that, and we did pretty well.”
McAlester made it 21-0 on Noble's next offensive drive. Buffs defensive back Mason Bumphus undercut a slant route by one of Noble's receivers, intercepting a pass from Cory Jennings and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown with 18.3 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We were supposed to be covering that route all week,” Bumphus said. “When he scrambled out, I just had a feeling he was going to throw it. So I just stayed with my receiver, and when he threw it I was just in the right position to make the right play.”
The defensive score forced the Buffs’ defense to play 13 consecutive downs, leading to a nine-play drive by the Bears. But again the defense held and forced a punt, and though Noble's defense finally forced McAlester to punt, Wood pinned the Bears at their own 1-yard line.
Three plays later, Jarome Smith and Keaton Slater tackled Jennings in the end zone for a safety and a 23-0 lead. And back on offense after the safety, Wood added a 62-yard touchdown run with 3:48 left in the half to make it 30-0.
“’Rome got there first, definitely,” Slater said of the safety. “We were knew that they were trying to let the quarterback keep it, so Coach (Kevin) Harmon called an outside blitz.”
Though McAlester’s offense ran 26 fewer plays than Noble’s, it managed more than 200 more offensive yards, as the Buffs’ defense held the Bears to just 190 total yards. Noble didn’t get on the board until 3:28 remained in the third quarter, with Austin Echols capping a 60-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to make it 44-7 Buffs.
Of those 60 yards, 27 came via borderline-at-best penalties. And on McAlester’s ensuing drive, Smith rushed 13 yards and picked up another 15 on a personal foul, then Wood hit Cade Harkins in the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown pass that made it 51-7 and ended the night for most of McAlester’s starters.
Harkins had twice attempted diving, one-handed catches during the first half but came up empty both times. After catching his third-quarter pass a few yards outside the end zone, Harkins threw off a potential tackler and ran in.
“I just had to use my body to get in his way and catch the ball,” Harkins said of his touchdown. “It was nice, because after the two, I was pretty frustrated with myself for not pulling those one-handers in.”
Jennings led the Bears with 106 rushing yards. Noble ran the ball 46 times in 68 total plays.
“Mentally, we didn’t adjust once we made mistakes,” Noble coach Steve Barrett said.
“I have to give my hat off to McAlester. That’s a very, very good football team. Like I told the kids, I truly believe we will not see a better team than what we saw tonight.”
With the win, McAlester improved to 1-0 in district play, 3-1 overall. Noble fell to 0-1 district, 2-2 overall.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.