By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The McAlester Buffaloes started sloppy, turning over the ball two plays into the game. The sloppiness continued, leading to six penalties, but the Buffs showed that even a sloppy McAlester team can still score points, get stops and win games.
It can also still clinch district titles.
McAlester quarterback Caden Pratt rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two more, leading the Buffs to a 52-24 win against the Skiatook Bulldogs on Friday at Hook Eales Stadium in McAlester.
Coupled with Bishop Kelley beating Tulsa Memorial, 27-20, the Buffs clinched District 5A-3. The Buffs last won a district title in 2011.
“It’s a win and a district championship, and so you’re obviously happy about that,” Buffs coach Bryan Pratt said. “But you still have another week that you have to go in the regular season, and no one wants to start off the playoffs after a loss.
“If we’re planning on beating the big boys that it’s going to take to win a state championship, we can’t play that kind of football.”
Though Skiatook scored first on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Upton to Gavin Pilgrim, McAlester responded with five unanswered touchdowns, scoring in five of its eight first-half drives. Jarome Smith began the scoring with a 26-yard touchdown run with 7:07 left in the first quarter, running around the right side of the defensive line before cutting back to the middle and past a Skiatook safety for the game-tying score.
Smith finished with 188 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He would’ve had at least two more touchdowns, but a Buffs penalty canceled one and conservative placement by the referees after a goal-line run denied him another.
“That’s just football,” Smith said.
“I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied. We still have a lot of things to improve on.”
Mason Bumphus ended Skiatook’s next drive with an interception he returned to the Skiatook 28-yard line. Giving the Buffs a strong defensive performance, Bumphus also knocked away several Skiatook passes downfield, made at least one tackle behind the line of scrimmage and stripped Skiatook receiver Gavin Pilgrim after a 1-yard catch, returning the fumble 42 yards for a third-quarter touchdown that made it 42-7 Buffs.
“I just saw he had the ball hanging out from him, so I just grabbed it and slipped right out,” Bumphus said of the strip.
“The defense stepped up a lot tonight. I thought the defense played well as a team (even though) we had a couple penalties.”
Following Bumphus’ interception in the first, Caden Pratt found Harkins on a short-yardage pass on second-and-18 from the Skiatook 36. In a play quite similar to one run last week against Bishop Kelley, Harkins exploded into the secondary following the catch and took it to the end zone to make it 14-7 Buffs.
“Our line, they do a really good job of getting out there and blocking those skill-guys for the other team, and I just follow behind them,” Harkins said. “They do all the work.”
Second-and-long situations didn’t seem to bother the Buffs on Friday. Facing second-and-goal from the Skiatook 11, Caden Pratt floated one to Bumphus in the end zone to make it 49-7 Buffs in the third.
Caden Pratt also rushed for three touchdowns in the second quarter. All three scores came on quarterback counter plays, the first of which coming five plays after a 25-yard run by Smith on second-and-25 at the Skiatook 43.
“It’s supposed to hit in ‘A gap,’ but you can never really tell in a game whenever it’s time to go,” Caden Pratt said of the counter. “You just have to keep your eyes open, and there’ll be something there. There’ll be a gap popping open.”
Caden Pratt completed 10 of 14 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. But he also looked flustered at times during the game, throwing two interceptions on plays in which he said he read the defense incorrectly and threw to the wrong receiver.
Defensively, the Buffs ended nine Bulldogs drive in four or fewer plays. The Buffs also twice stopped the Bulldogs on fourth down, with Victor Mills defending a fourth-down pass in the second quarter and Tucker Curry tackling receiver Shae Garner 11 yards shy of the first down marker in the third.
Kyle McLaughlin led the Bulldogs with 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on 35 carries. After McLaughlin’s touchdown cut the deficit to 49-14 in the third, Skiatook recovered an onside kick and scored on a 23-yard pass from Upton to Jaren Knight on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The touchdown briefly gave the Buffs and Buffs fans a scare, but Smith returned the ensuing kickoff to the Skiatook 37, and five plays later Taeam Kang kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 52-21 Buffs.
“They have some good athletes, and they do a good job,” Skiatook coach Vance Miller said. “Those kids are just doing what they’re coached to do. We just ask our kids to play hard, and they played as hard as they could.”
With the win, McAlester improved to 8-1 overall, 6-0 in the district. Skiatook fell to 3-6 overall, 3-3 in the district.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.