EDMOND — Norman High’s still a long way from the playoffs. Getting there may require taking down unbeaten Lawton inside Cameron Stadium.
Still, whether the Tigers make it or not, what happened Friday night at Wantland Stadium might just stand on its own.
Edmond Santa Fe entered without Oklahoma quarterback commit Justice Hansen, yet still came in a clear favorite, the loser of only one district game.
Meanwhile, the Tigers, a running team if there ever was one, played without its top two running backs, Darius Manning and Dupree Young, the victims of knee and ankle injuries, respectively. And, for much of the second half, Tiger quarterback Jakcob Dean was clearly hobbling.
It didn’t matter.
The Tigers (4-4, 2-3 District 6A-4) scored the first three touchdowns of the second half and coasted to a 28-14 victory.
“This is what we’ve been looking for all year,” Tiger coach Greg Nation told his team as it huddled near the south end zone. “Everybody came together.”
There was no other way.
NHS’ defense was stout, sacking ESF (5-3, 3-2) quarterback Keaton Torre six times and holding the Wolves to 14 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Ty Smith, just a sophomore, put in a 23-carry-for-69-yards performance that included two touchdowns, before he was dinged up in the fourth quarter and gave way to freshman Diante DeFreeze, who carried five times to help the Tigers salt the game away.
Dean made plays with his feet, running for 111 yards on 10 carries and scrambles, as well as his with his arm, throwing for a pair of touchdowns.
“The monkey’s not off our back,” Dean said, still thinking of the playoffs. “But we’re not going to let up. We’re just going to push harder and put the pedal to the metal … We dug ourselves the hole and now we have to work hard to dig ourselves out of it.”
Santa Fe did not play disciplined, committing 13 penalties for almost 100 yards, and while Torre wasn’t bad, tossing for 197 yards and a touchdown, he certainly wasn’t Hansen. The Wolves also committed the game’s only turnover, which eventually led to the Tigers’ final touchdown.
What NHS did was accept the Wolves’ gifts and not hurt itself along the way.
“We never shot ourselves in the foot tonight. We know as a team that we definitely had to minimize turnovers and mistakes because that’s what beat us the last three games,” Nation said. “We really had to come together tonight and play a complete ballgame. Our playoffs started tonight.”
The game changed in the middle of the third quarter when, back to pass, Dean eluded about four would-be sackers before breaking free for a 35-yard run that became a 65-yard gain after a late hit out of bounds on one side of the field and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Santa Fe bench on the other.
A moment later, Dean hit Cade Parker for a 9-yard touchdown, good for a 14-7 lead and control of the game that would not be relinquished.
“Something good happened for us,” Nation said. “So much bad has happened to us the last three weeks with the injuries and balls not bouncing our way, and we just needed good things to happen to us and tonight it did.
“Not just breaks. Our kids played their hearts out.”
After Dean found Parker, the Tiger defense turned in a three-and-out, and the Tiger offense went on its most impressive drive of the night, going 58 yards in eight plays, with Smith adding his second score from a yard out.
Tight end Cal Shone, who set Smith up at the 1 with a 22-yard catch, added NHS’ final touchdown, a 7-yard grab with 5:53 remaining.
“I’m proud of my team,” Dean said.
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