NORMAN — Most of the game, when not on the field, Norman High quarterback Jakcob Dean was doing one of two things.
He was sitting on a bench as though it was lawn furniture, like the coolest cat in the stadium, which he might well have been, or he was pacing the sideline, looking for somebody to talk to.
The Tigers led by 17 points, about 11 minutes remained and Dean, levelheaded enough even to say a few words to a sportswriter in the middle of the Crosstown Clash, soon found a better listener in Tiger wide receiver George Carter.
Funny, he said the same thing to Carter he’d told the sportswriter.
“We still got some more drives,” he said. “We still got some more drives.”
As it turned out, he was wrong. Also, as it turned out, that was cool. Because you don’t have to be right to lead. You only have to lead.
Dean had led enough. Everybody had. Enough to dispatch Norman North 38-31 and reclaim the title as best team in town.
Defensive end Cade Parker spent the night chasing North quarterback David Cornwell behind the line of scrimmage, accounting for a lion’s, er, Tiger’s share of NHS’ nine sacks.
Kierstan Pendleton made a play he’ll never forget and may never top, flat stealing the ball out of North receiver Nick Basquine’s hands before bringing it back 36 yards, knotting the score 7-7 and chasing all the jitters out of a Tiger offense that needed a huge defensive play to set it straight.
Then there was Darius Manning, turning the first play of the fourth quarter, an innocent looking third-and-8 from the Tiger 28 into a 72-yard burst.
Of course, somebody had to block for him. Of course, somebody had to occupy the Timberwolves’ offensive line, allowing other Tigers to spend the night chasing Cornwell.
A team of leaders?
Maybe just a team. That’s probably good enough for the Tigers. Really, it may not get any better.
“I think it’s just the kids,” longtime NHS assistant Sunny Feexico said when asked for the Tigers’ identity. “They just came together. It’s not offense, it’s not defense, it’s just one unit.”
Honestly, the Tigers are a team after your own heart.
They’ve got some explosiveness. They’ve got a born leader in Dean. They’ve got some big defensive guns. And they’ve got a coach willing to gamble on them even though it might not work, the way it didn’t work when Dean failed to pick up a yard facing fourth-and-1, up 38-28 near midfield with 4 minutes to play.
Still, the takeaway of that moment wasn’t any kind of bad decision, but the faith Greg Nation placed in his charges; that they’d pick up the yard, but also that they’d step up if they didn’t.
When it was over, though their fans may have been, the Tigers were hardly cocky, just humble and proud.
“We played the way we were coached. We did the little things. We got after it,” Parker said. “We executed our assignments better than they did.”
Manning was thinking about the hard work in the offseason, like you get a week to prepare for the last nine games of the regular season, but most of a year to get ready for this one.
“It feels good. It feels really good,” he said. “We worked so hard all summer.”
Manning said it didn’t feel like it was NHS against the world, just “pretty much the whole town,” which is sort of smaller and bigger than the whole world at the same time.
“Every time you win, it’s another 365 days of bragging rights,” Parker said.
He’s right about that, just don’t expect the Tigers to exercise the privilege. They’ve got a season to play and they’re convinced they’re going places and, really, why wouldn’t they be?
“If we’re going to be a state title contender …,” Nation said to his players as they knelt before him, a moment after picking up the Harkness Trophy that annually goes to the Clash champ.
How he finished the sentence hardly mattered. After his players made their point, he’d made his. He had their attention and they were buying every word.
They’d earned the right.
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