NORMAN — Early in the season, when running backs Darius Manning and Dupree Young emerged as effective halfbacks for Norman High, coach Greg Nation said his program was lucky to have such great backs year after year.
After a spate of injuries that have severely slowed the Tigers’ triple-option offense, fans got a glimpse of the future in Friday night’s upset victory over Edmond Santa Fe.
NHS (4-4, 2-3) entered Friday’s game against top-10 Edmond Santa Fe (5-3, 3-2) without either Young or Manning, a week after Manning unexpectedly returned from injury to take a handful of snaps against Southmoore.
That left the rushing duties up to senior quarterback Jakcob Dean, who was effective despite injuring his own ankle in the second half, and sophomore Ty Smith. In the first start of his career Smith showed that the well is not dry at NHS, rushing for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns before exiting with yet another injury. That brought on freshman Diante Defreeze, who was given the ball late in a crucial district game, a position he didn’t expect to find himself in so soon.
But no matter who carried the ball, Nation’s patented run-first offense worked to perfection. And that has kept the Tigers’ playoff chances alive.
“This is what we’ve been looking for all year,” Nation said after the game. “Everybody came together.”
Playoff races tighten: Norman High kept itself alive for a playoff berth in District 6A-4 with Friday’s upset over Edmond Santa Fe, but the Tigers will likely have to win out by defeating Putnam City West and then unbeaten Lawton if they want to make the playoffs.
The path is easier for Southmoore (5-3, 3-2) as far as the math is concerned. With its win over Edmond Memorial, the SaberCats are now in a four-way tie with the Bulldogs, Wolves and Mustang.
Southmoore faces Choctaw (3-5, 1-4) and the Bronchos in their final two contests. Their playoff lives are in their hands if they win out.
Things are much more complicated for Norman North (5-3, 4-1), which dropped its first district game of the season to Putnam City North on Friday. The loss dropped the T-Wolves into a three-way tie for first with Edmond North and Putnam City North.
Because all three teams are tied, the tiebreaker used is district points. Teams are awarded up to or minus 15 points based on margin of victory in every district game. The team with the highest cumulative total wins the tiebreaker in the event that a head-to-head result is not applicable.
That’s the case in District 6A-3, and it’s not a system that favors Norman North. The T-Wolves have a total of 18 district points, while Putnam City North has 19 and Edmond North has 49.
The Timberwolves do have the easier remaining schedule of the three teams, facing Moore and Lawton Eisenhower, two teams with a combined record of 4-12. Putnam City North has games against Lawton Eisenhower and Yukon (4-3, 2-3), while Edmond North squares off against Midwest City (6-2, 3-2) and winless US Grant.
Westmoore (7-1, 4-1) kept alive its hopes of hosting a home playoff game with its comeback overtime victory over Sapulpa (5-3, 2-3) Friday. It's now tied with Broken Arrow (6-2, 4-1) in District 6A-2.
The Jaguars face Tulsa Edison (4-4, 1-4) this week. A win should set up a matchup with BA in the final week of the season for No. 2 in the district behind Jenks (8-0, 5-0).
Defense shows improvement: While Norman North’s offense gave the ball away four times Friday night and allowed the Panthers to immediately turn two of those into points, the Timberwolves’ defense played one of its better games of the year.
Aside from three long plays they gave up, the Timberwolves put together their best defensive performance of the year, holding the Panthers to just 254 yards of offense and 17 points despite being put into tough field position.
Cornwell rehabbing injured knee: Norman North quarterback David Cornwell won’t return to the field this season after a knee injury ended his senior campaign three weeks ago.
But the Alabama commit has laid out a rehab campaign that should see him on the field in time for spring practice at Alabama. In the meantime, he’s cheering his team on from the sidelines and helping junior quarterback John Kolar ease into the starting spot. He’s also staying optimistic about his future.
“They’ve pretty much got this down to a science now,” he said. “I’m just working hard to get back out there.”
Washington gets weeks off: With a lopsided win over Mangum on Friday, Washington now has a week off to prepare for a Week 10 showdown with Lindsay.
Due to Riverside dropping out of the district shortly before the season began, the Warriors have a bye this week, and will use the extra time to prepare to face off against the only other unbeaten team in District 2A-3 in what is expected to amount to a district title game.
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