NORMAN — When Norman High hosted Yukon earlier this season, it was an unlikely group of heroes that made the difference in that contest. And it’s a unit the Tigers will look to again tonight when they host the Millers in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
In the first matchup between the teams, a 31-17 NHS victory, a huge defensive effort in the third quarter changed the game and allowed the Tigers to fight back from a halftime deficit and win. After that game, the Tigers’ defense knew it had turned a corner.
“We came out soft in the first half, and at halftime we knew we had to pick it up,” defensive back Boston Lewis said after the game. “But we went out strong in the second half. It was a really important win for us.”
Since then, the Tigers have steadily improved on defense, from holding high-powered opponents Southmoore and Lawton to just 28 and 21 points, respectively, to making game-changing plays.
That includes winning the turnover battle, something coach Greg Nation was looking for earlier in the season and now is watching unfold. The Tigers have forced seven turnovers in their last two games, and several have been game-changing. In addition, NHS has been getting pressure on the quarterback, forcing bad decisions and rushed plays.
“I think our line has done a great job and getting to the quarterback more,” Nation said. “Part of that is our defensive coaches coming up with the right schemes, and part of it is because these guys aren’t just big, but they’re fast too. Lawton’s line last week was the biggest we’ve seen all season, but our guys were able to get behind them.”
In that game against the Wolverines, a 27-21 victory for NHS, the Tigers sacked quarterback Dallas Sealey three times and hurried him countless more, forcing him out of the pocket. While he was able to burn NHS with his feet several times, he also went down behind the line plenty and was forced into a difficult throw that the Tigers intercepted.
That’s the same line of attack the Tigers will try to use tonight in a grudge match against the Millers.
“We’re going to come out and do our job,” linebacker Tywon James said. “We’re going to do what we do and keep the momentum on our side. There’s no doubt knowing we’ve beat them before boosts our morale. And we’re a better team now than we were then.”
NHS hasn’t won a playoff game in 10 years. Tonight, they’ll have a chance to do that, marking a milestone for the program in Nation’s fifth year at the helm.
“We’re anxious to get out there and play,” James said. “We want to make a statement. We’re not the underdog. People can’t take us lightly.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com