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.