NORMAN — Forecasting prep football success this time of year can be a rough business.
So rough, that Thursday night at Harve Collins Field, as Norman High was knocking off Yukon 38-13 in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, nobody could remember the last time the Tigers had won such a game.
The 1997 combo team, featuring players from NHS and North, was recalled, but certainly the Tigers had won another one since?
Turns out they did, 10-7 over Putnam City North in 2002, though the point remains the same.
Butch Peters’ Tigers went 9-1 in 2005 and 2006, but fell short come the playoffs. Greg Nation’s Tigers, two years ago, were the surprise of Class 6A. Then they surprised everybody by losing to Owasso in the first round of the playoffs. NHS was supposed to be even better last season, but Owasso advanced through the Tigers again.
Winning playoff games ain’t easy.
But the Tigers made it look pretty easy.
Imond Robinson ran for 234 yards, A’erion Hines ran for 113 and Zach Long ran for 93 on just six carries and, though he completed just three passes, two were touchdowns to Jakcob Dean.
Somewhere in there is a time-honored recipe for postseason pigskin success.
It’s not about being a machine out there. It’s not even about being the better team. That helps, but more is frequently required.
It’s about making plays.
Or, if you want to add one more cliché to the mix. It’s about stepping up and making plays. Against the Millers, the Tigers stepped up and made plays.
Third-and-4 at the Miller 27, and NHS hadn’t scored since their first play from scrimmage, an 80-yard run from Robinson. Long went to pass and found Dean a step in front of his chasers but Long threw it a step beyond Dean.
“All week, coach (Chuck) Long just told me to be strong to the catch, strong to the catch,” Dean said. “And when I realized it was a little far, I knew I had to make a play on it.”
A one-handed play.
The Tigers needed it. They’d scored fast, but hadn’t scored since. The next big play was going to be a big deal and Dean made it.
A little later, A.J. West, Yukon’s fantastic tailback, went around the left side and appeared gone, but NHS safety Jonathan Peters had an angle. Not a great angle but an angle. Getting there was going to be a great play.
He got there.
West ran for an amazing 264 yards, but he got 29 on that play instead of 52. He got 10 on the next play and Blake Biggs got four after that. But looking at first-and-goal from the 7, Yukon went nowhere, and after a mediocre snap and a sloppy hold and a hooked kick, the Tigers had the ball and the Millers still hadn’t scored.
“We’re about to get chewed out,” is what Peters said he was thinking chasing West. “So I ran as fast as I could.”
That wasn’t all.
“Every time I step on the field, I fear my opponent, and if you fear something, you’re going to attack it,” Peters said. “I was like a cheetah chasing an impala.”
Or a Tiger chasing a Miller, but whatever works.
Peters’ tackle loomed so much larger a few minutes into the second half, when Yukon went the length of the field for its only touchdown, making it 17-7 instead of 17-14.
Also, the Millers might have enjoyed a much different night had Codey Sanchez got things going in the Tiger secondary. The Miller is one of the state’s best receivers, but he ran into Tiger corner Boston Lewis, who didn’t exactly make one huge play so much as keep Sanchez from making any.
Sanchez finished with a single catch worth eight yards. It is for games like Lewis’ the term “shutdown corner” was coined.
“You’ve just got to stay confident,” he said. “You’ve got to trust in your skills. That’s what I did.”
The Tigers won and won big. And while forecasting prep football success this time of year is no picnic, NHS has found a formula. It helps to be a good team, and the Tigers clearly are. Also, win all the big moments, as the Tigers clearly did.
One more thing?
Get a good draw.
Three other teams will meet Union, Jenks or Broken Arrow next week, but NHS will get tonight’s Sapulpa-Owasso winner.
The fifth-ranked Rams should win the game and just like it was time the Tigers won another playoff game, it’s time they beat Owasso, too.
Clobbering Yukon, it’s like they drew themselves a map.
Clay HorningFollow me @email@example.com