NORMAN — It may not be enough to rescue Norman High’s season, but one thing was made clear Friday night: when the Tigers have their entire team on the field, their offense is something to be reckoned with.
Maligned for much of the team’s struggles in the past month, the Tigers’ offense got a huge boost Friday with the unexpected return of running back Darius Manning, who had been expected to miss another game due to an injury. But the junior returned to the field, returning the extra threat to the triple-option that the Tigers had been missing.
A string of poor rushing games hurt the Tigers (3-4, 1-3) early in the district schedule. NHS got a jolt of life against Choctaw last week when Dupree Young tallied more than 300 yards and six touchdowns by himself, and the Tigers proved on Friday they can continue that success against tougher competition. Led by Young’s 130, four players rushed for more than 50 yards in the 33-30 loss to Southmoore. That included 63 on just six carries for Manning, who coach Greg Nation credited for part of the success.
“It’s huge for us to have him back,” Nation said. “He gives you that one-two punch, and with Jakcob Dean at quarterback the triple option works a lot better. When you just have one guy back there the defense can pick him on, but having Darius there makes that harder for them to do.”
Having Manning back on the field also allowed Dean more room to work. He finished with 65 yards rushing against Southmoore and would have had more if not for several snaps that got behind him on a rainy night that made it difficult for anyone to hold onto the ball. Manning’s return also gave Dean another option to look toward when he rolled out of the pocket, something the Tigers will try to utilize to expand the playbook.
It was a formula that worked well against Southmoore; the Tigers actually outgained the SaberCats 392-349 on Friday. It’s also one the Tigers will need to lean on if they want to upset No. 6 Edmond Santa Fe on the road next week. While NHS’ playoff hopes took a significant hit on Friday, the Tigers aren’t out of the race yet.
“We’ve still got a chance,” Nation said. “Does it look bad now? Yeah, it does. But anything can happen with the playoffs. We’re not out of it.”