True, Kingfisher got the win last Friday night when the Jackets resumed their district schedule with a 21-13 victory at McLoud.
That doesn’t mean they left Pottawatomie County feeling too good about it.
KHS clung to a onepoint lead for much of the second half and still had to thwart one last Redskin effort at the end to escape a game many felt it would easily win.
“It shouldn’t have been a close contest,” said Kingfisher’s Jeff Myers after his squad upped its District 3A-1 mark to 2-0 and overall record to 4-2.
“If we just play our game and play it disciplined and have the effort that we expect from them, then it shouldn’t have been as close as it was.”
But close it was.
Kingfisher never led by more than the final margin of victory.
The first quarter was scoreless and the Jackets held a seven-point halftime lead.
A missed extra-point by the Redskins was the only thing keeping the game from being tied for most of the final 15-plus minutes of the game.
As Kingfisher’s offense had six straight empty possessions, the defense was called upon time after time to preserve the narrow lead.
And each time it answered the call.
Half of McLoud’s six final possessions started inside Kingfisher territory. KHS denied the Redskins all but once.
The exception was a 26-yard scoring drive that was set up when Zakhilen Osborn picked off a Jax Sternberger pass with 9:19 to go in the third quarter.
It took the Redskins nearly six full minutes and three fourth-down conversions to capitalize as quarterback Collin Gibson snuck it in from the 1 with 3:27 to go in the quarter.
A bad snap forced McLoud to attempt to pass for the two-point conversion and it went long, allowing KHS to keep a 14-13 lead.
Jarret Birdwell was popped trying to make a reception on Kingfisher’s next drive and the Redskins pounced on it.
“We didn’t feel it was a catch, so it shouldn’t have been a fumble,” Myers said.
As it stood, however, it was Kingfisher’s third straight drive to end with a turnover and it set up the Redskins in KHS territory.
Kingfisher’s defense remained stingy, but the Redskins were in potential field goal range.
Hunter Ryan’s 30-yard field goal attempt for the lead was well off the mark, however.
Kingfisher’s offense still couldn’t come alive.
Its next three drives ended in punts as McLoud earned multiple opportunities to gain the lead.
It never happened.
Cade Stephenson intercepted a Gibson pass in the end zone on the Redskins’ next possession.
Tate Taylor got his second pick of the night on the next one, giving the Jackets the ball at their own 43 with 7:46 to play.
The Jackets couldn’t score, but did eat more than three minutes off the clock and Stephenson’s punt pinned the Redskins at their own 15 with 4:11 showing on the clock.
The Redskins had one big play negated by a holding call, which set up a 3rd and 20 from their own 17.
As Gibson rolled to try to get away from the defense, he was drug down by Harrison Evans on a sack that T.J. Parker helped clean up.
A fourth-down play was well short of the first down, giving the Jackets the ball at the McLoud 22 with 1:06 to go.
A few plays - and a KHS penalty - later, Stephenson broke through the Redskins’ defense for a 33- yard score.
That came with 44 seconds remaining. McLoud’s last-ditch effort to drive the field and score was once again turned away.
“Our defense saved us,” Myers said. “Other than just a couple of plays, the guys just didn’t give up a lot…and even on their touchdown drive in the sec ond half, they had to earn every bit of that.”
The teams traded punts in the first quarter. KHS got it going on their initial drive of the second quarter (started with 5 seconds left in the first).
The converted two fourth downs, drove 64 yards in just under six minutes and went up 7-0 on Stephenson’s hard-fought 2-yard run at 6:07 of the quarter.
McLoud came right back.
Wesley Olds got behind the Kingfisher defense and was able to haul in a 73- yard pass from Gibson.
That set up a 10-yard TD run by Clint Campbell and Ryan’s extra-point knotted the game at 7-7.
The Jackets had their own reply as they drove 86 yards on their next possession.
More than half of it came on the score as Stephenson got one-on-one coverage on the outside and blew past his defender to pull in a 44-yard pass from Sternberger.
That gave KHS a 14-7 lead it would take into halftime.
“Other than the one big pass play and some scrambles by their quarterback, we felt OK about our defense,” Myers said.
The offense was apparently on track, but a Dynton Townsend fumble ended a KHS possession late in the half and was the first of the three turnovers for the Jackets.
Taylor put an end to the first half with an interception in the end zone on the final play.
But the Jackets didn’t
Parker added eight. turn that into any momentum in the second half.
McLoud had more first downs than KHS (12-10), held the Jackets to 85 rushing yards and out-gained them by 30 yards on the ground.
Simply put, Myers said, the hosts were the more physical team.
“We, as coaches, expected them to come out and try and hit us in the mouth,” Myers said. “I’m not sure our guys came ready to play.”
Stephenson was battling a nagging turf toe injury and didn’t start on either side of the ball.
He ended up with six carries for 75 yards, six catches for 86 yards and three combined scores. He added three tackles and the interception.
Sternberger was 18 of 24 for 189 yards.
Birdwell caught five of those passes for 67 yards.
But it was the defense that kept KHS unbeaten in district play.
The athletic Gibson hurt the Jackets with his legs at times, but was limited to 6 of 20 passing, including the three picks.
The Jackets sacked him four times and had fives tackles for a loss.
Evans led the team with nine tackles.
Parker added eight. Tate Taylor also had eight tackles to go with his interceptions.
“We needed them and they came through for us,” Myers said of the defense late in the game.
He added that the team shouldn’t have needed to rely on the late stops to get the win.
“Our mental focus and especially our effort were very poor,” Myers said. “It won’t happen again.”
The Jackets are hitting the stretch run of their season, which includes three games that most figured would determine the district’s playoff teams and their placement.
It begins Thursday when KHS hosts Perkins-Tryon at 7 p.m.
The Demons are 2-3 overall and 0-2 in district games.
Their district losses are to Anadarko and Heritage Hall, which, along with Kingfisher, were predicted to figure heavily in the district race.
Perkins went on the road last week to beat Comanche 49-26. The Demons were originally scheduled to play district foe Mount St. Mary, but COVID-19 restrictions kept MSM from playing.
“Their record isn’t shiny, but they’ve lost to some good teams,” Myers said. “They’re another physical team that’s going to try to punch us in the mouth and they got us pretty good last year.”
Perkins-Tryon won 34-13 at Kingfisher last season.
“We have to be much more focused and ready to play than we were last week,” Myers said. “If we are, I like our chances. If not, it could be a long night.”