NORMAN — Though it did not come with a district championship, the Norman High boys still capped off their finest regular season in some time with, maybe, their finest game of that regular season Tuesday night at Harve Collins Field.
Absolutely frigid, with temperatures in the mid 30s and an even colder wind blowing across the pitch, the Tigers came out like they’d been waiting for just such conditions all season.
It added up to a very consequential 2-0 victory over third-ranked Edmond Santa Fe, one that has the Tigers playing at home on Friday, the first night of the Class 6A playoffs.
Unclear is whether or not that game will be played at Gordon Drummond Field or Harve Collins Field, but the way things went against the Wolves, the Tigers might not mind staying on campus for another 80 minutes.
“It both surprised and pleased me, to put it mildly,” said NHS coach Gordon Drummond, who secured his 324th victory at the Tiger helm, “but we were very aggressive in a way we had not been.”
If there’s a knock on fourth-ranked NHS (12-1, 6-1 District 6A-1), it has been a collective lack of urgency. As Drummond went on to point out in his postgame comments, five times this season the Tigers have taken a lead only to give it back over the next 9 minutes.
That didn’t happen against Santa Fe.
In just the third minute, Theo Ostas placed a corner kick to the head of Haydn Jones, who was stoned from point-blank range by Santa Fe keeper Chris Morgensen. Only it didn’t matter because Jorge Briones was there to pinball the ball into the back of the net.
About 10 minutes later, off another expertly placed Ostas corner kick, Matt Hockett whipped a header past Morgensen, doubling NHS’ advantage.
If it was a horrible night to watch a game, it was nonetheless a great night to play one for the Tigers, who, for the most part, played in short sleeves and with nothing to keep their legs warm under their shorts.
“It’s refreshing,” Hockett said. “It kind of keeps you energized the whole time because you want to keep running to stay warm.”
By the end, the Wolves had actually outshot the Tigers 9-7 and NHS keeper Andrew Arledge had made five saves, two more than Morgensen. But only one of those Santa Fe shots was dangerous. Indeed, Drummond loved the defense his team played.
“The way we played defense tonight was the way we’ve played in the past, which is make sure you keep the play in front of you,” he said. “If the play is in front of you, nothing bad is going to happen, and we were exceedingly good at that tonight.”
There was one downside. In the second half, Briones received his third yellow card of the season, dictating him to miss Friday night’s playoff opener. Of course, if NHS plays Friday as it played Tuesday — and if Norman North manages to not be shocked in its first-round playoff game — Briones should be back just in time for a postseason Crosstown Clash.
Said Hockett, “I think we’re finally kind of putting the pieces together at the right time.”
Follow me @clayhorning