By Matt Goisman
TULSA — When a score becomes so lopsided that the game becomes basically unwinnable, football coaches will sometimes choose to let the game clock run in situations when it would normally be stopped. That ends the game sooner, decreasing the chances of an injury and protecting some measure of the losing team’s pride.
Thanks to the McAlester Buffaloes, the game clock in Friday’s game started running nonstop just two minutes into the second quarter.
The Buffs scored eight touchdowns while allowing the Nathan Hale Rangers no points and just 52 total offensive yards in the first half, cruising to a 54-12 win Friday at the East Side Sports Complex in Tulsa.
Counting Hale’s two fumbles on kickoffs and three turnovers on downs, McAlester's defense forced nine turnovers Friday. The turnovers almost started on the first play from scrimmage, with Cade Harkins undercutting a pass from Jonathan Beasley and catching it in the air, only to have a Hale receiver rip the ball out of Harkins' hands on the way down for an incomplete pass.
Instead of Harkins, Jarome Smith got the first turnover, hauling in a pass from Sam Palmer that either Harkins or his receiver deflected into the air. Getting great blocking from the defensive line, Smith returned the interception 48 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead a minute into the game.
“They threw a hitch, and I don’t know if Cade deflected it or if it bounced off his helmet,” Smith said. “It just went straight up in there, and I was around it, so I knew I was going to get it. That was my first pick. I was excited.”
Hale fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving possession back to McAlester at the Hale 32-yard line. Smith and Caden Pratt took the ball 29 yards on six plays, then Pratt finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Smith added a touchdown run and a touchdown reception in the first quarter. Facing first-and-10 from the Hale 23, Smith tried to rush to his left, broke a tackle from Jonathan Beasley, cut horizontally back towards the right sideline, turned back up field and broke one more tackle near the 10 before running it in for a 21-0 lead.
Starting at quarterback for the first time this season, Pratt missed on four of his first five passing plays, but he started finding his receivers on the drive that ended in Smith’s big run. He completed three of four passes in that drive, including a 19-yard pass to Zach Baugh on fourth that set up Smith’s run, then completed his next four passes as well, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Smith and a 35-yard touchdown pass to Harkins that made it 33-0 with 38.8 seconds left in the half.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve done anything like that,” Pratt said. “Coming out here and getting in the zone and getting that relationship going back again with my receivers, it’s going to take me a little bit to start hitting again.
“The coaches always say it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it matters how you play. I think we took that the right way, came out here and got our business done.”
Pratt added two more rushing touchdowns late in the first and then midway through the second quarter, and Rhyln Stephens scored his first touchdown as a member of McAlester’s varsity. Stephens ran it in from 6 yards out to make it 40-0 Buffs with 9:46 left in the first half, but he had to recover his own fumble in the end zone to complete the score.
“Quarterback reads the defensive end, and if the defensive end waits for him, he just gives me the ball,” Stephens said of the play. “He just gave me the ball, I ran up and a dude tried stripping the ball. Right when he tried stripping the ball, another dude came and hit my leg and the ball came away. I ended up turning and looking around and see the ball, so I just jumped on it, and it happened to be in the end zone.”
Pratt, Mason Bumphus and Michael Mines also recorded interceptions. Mines' pick came in the second half, when McAlester rested most of its starters and regularly substituted in JV players.
“I was really pleased that we were able to come out without any major injuries,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said.
“We got up big and played well early, and I was pleased with the way they played.”
Coach Pratt said he’d entered Friday’s game hoping to get some reps for the team’s reserved and less-used players. Twelve different Buffs, including second-string quarterback Nick Porter and running back Kyler Thompson, recorded runs or catches for positive yardage.
Beasley’s 16-yard touchdown run finally put Hale on the board with 5:19 left in the third, and Palmer added a 17-yard touchdown pass to KeJuan Clark in the fourth. A player whose effort never dwindled even as the score quickly got out of hand, Beasley finished with 83 yards, 50 of which came against McAlester’s JV in the second half.
“He’s a tough kid,” Hale coach Tony Peters said of Beasley.
“Early on, defensively, we played pretty well. And then all of a sudden, we went back to our old habits of not wrapping up, not finishing plays.”
With the win, McAlester improved to 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the district. Hale fell to 0-6.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.