Okemah vs. Stroud: Touchdowns, turnovers and missed calls
By Justin Scrimshire
The 2019 Okemah Panthers High School football season kicked off at home Friday night with a non-conference game against the Stroud Tigers. Despite being gifted five turnovers from the young, out-manned Panthers and a few pivotal missed calls from the officiating crew, the heavily favored Tigers only narrowly escaped the Pecan Bowl with a 40-38 victory.
Four of the six touchdowns scored by Stroud came after a Panther turnover. One of those turnovers fell at the feet of the officiating crew as a missed face-mask call on the Panther quarterback resulted in a fumble that was returned for a Tiger touchdown.
Regardless of their frequent setbacks, the Panthers continued to respond to the adversity with an offense that was capable of scoring in a flash and never let the game get too far away from them. Only when the buzzer sounded at the end of the fourth quarter during a final Panther drive did the packed home stands and Panther team succumb to the disappointment of defeat. However, the Okemah Panthers delivered a very clear message throughout the night – this team absolutely refuses to quit.
After the game, Coach Joe Turner commended the effort on the field stating, “This shows the character of our guys and how hard they work. We knew they were going to be bigger than us and for the most part, probably faster than us.”Coach Turner also acknowledged the Panthers “were their own worst enemy” with their turnovers but rightly pointed out the mental and physical toughness of the Panther squad in which “for the most part, only 13 or 14 kids played all night,” compared to a Stroud team that had a deep advantage on the depth chart.
At halftime, the Panthers trailed 20-16, but the Panthers dug deep and fought with everything they had, turning the game into a nail biter.
The Panthers faced a first and fifteen at the Stroud 41 yard line to start the last quarter and an incomplete pass quickly made it second and fifteen. Kurtis Wilson then connected with Mikey Cruz for a twenty-six yard gain to the Stroud 28 yard line. Cruz then ran the ball for a loss of three but the Panthers bounced back with a twenty-two yard catch from Wilson to Bear that put Okemah inside the Stroud ten yard line.
Tyler Campbell ran the ball to the left side of the field for a seven yard gain, making it second and goal from the two yard line. On the following play there were offsetting penalties and second down was replayed. Okemah took a shot to the end zone but the pass fell incomplete. On third and goal, Wilson threw the ball again and this time connected with Kaiden Bear for a Panther touchdown. Wilson then ran the ball into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion making the score 30-34 with 8:49 remaining in the game.
A short kick from Okemah allowed Stroud to recover at their own 49 yard line. However, two incomplete passes later and the Tigers faced a third and ten. Stroud finally completed a pass for a gain of ten yards to the Panther 41 yard line. On first down Stroud attempted another pass that fell incomplete. The Tigers then threw an incomplete lateral and an alert Tyler Campbell jumped on the loose ball, giving the Panthers possession at their own 40 yard line and a much needed shot in the arm.
With the home crowd feeling the sense of urgency and cheering on their boys, the Panthers took the field looking to once again to reclaim the lead for the first time since their first drive in the first quarter. Cheering quickly turned to gasps however when Okemah fumbled the ball on a handoff transfer. A sigh of relief rippled through the crowd when the officiating crew signaled the Panthers had recovered the lost football. From there, it was a steady drive, play after play, gain after gain.
Late in the game, on second and eleven from the Panther 39 yard line, Kurtis Wilson completed a pass to Landon Dennis for a gain of ten yards. Makhan Harjo followed that up with a five yard scamper giving Okemah a second and five. Wilson then completed a pass to Harjo that took Okemah to the Tiger 37 yard line and a first down. Mikey Cruz stepped in to run the ball for nine yards. Harjo returned to run the ball straight up the middle inside the red zone to the 14 yard line and a first down. A pitch back to Cruz gained three yards followed by another run to the right by Cruz all the way to the one yard line. With a first and goal, Cruz ran once again up the middle but gained no ground. On second down and goal, Makhan Harjo took the ball up the middle and punched it through into the end zone for a Panther touchdown and the lead! A successful two-point conversion gave Okemah a 38-34 lead with an agonizing 1:56 left in the game.
Okemah sent a booming kick to the Tiger 18 yard line and Stroud returned it to the 29 yard line. Two incomplete passes later it was third and ten. Stroud connected on the next pass and was stopped by Tristan Thomas at the 35 yard line for a gain of five yards, making it forth and five. However, Stroud was able to complete their next pass and was tackled at the Tiger 42 yard line. An incomplete pass broken up by Mikey Cruz made it second and ten with one minute left on the scoreboard. Stroud completed their next pass before being tackled at the Panther 46 yard line by Korbyn Vansant with forty seconds left on the clock.
With a first and ten, Stroud ran a sweep to the right and their runner found daybreak. Kaiden Bear made the saving tackle at the 21 yard line with thirty seconds left on the clock. Stroud attempted the same sweep a second time but Jesse James was there to stop the run for no gain and making the tackle in bounds, forcing Stroud to use a timeout. On a second down pass, the throw fell incomplete. A gut punch landed hard though, when Stroud connected on the next pass for a touchdown, leaving twelve seconds on the clock for Okemah to respond. The two-point conversion was no good, but the damage had been done. Stroud 40. Okemah 38.
Stroud sent a squib kick toward the awaiting Panthers and Okemah recovered at their own 49 yard line. On the first play of the final drive, Kurtis Wilson completed a pass to Kaiden Bear out to the Stroud 36 yard line. Four seconds remained on the clock and Okemah called for a quick timeout. However, a flag lay on the field. The officiating crew called a penalty on Okemah for an illegal procedure. After marking off the five yard penalty, Okemah faced a first down and the rest of the field to win with four seconds left for a miracle. In spite of their best efforts, the game would end on a sack.
There was a lot for this young team to learn from in this game and there was even more to be proud of. Okemah will look to rebound on the road with a test against Hulbert.