JENKS – Wagoner’s defense arguably produced its best performance of the season in the Class 4A semifinals Friday night.
It wasn’t enough, however, to return the Bulldogs to the State title game this week for a shot at their fifth gold ball in this decade.
Mason Barcheers had 24 rushes for 131 yards, noseguard Vaka Tuifua delivered an impressive run-stopping and pass-rushing presence, and a key fake punt helped lead third-ranked Poteau past No. 4 Wagoner 7-3 at Allan Trimble Stadium.
The Pirates (12-1), who entered averaging 41.3 points per game, advance to meet No. 5 Weatherford (11-2) in the 4A final at 1 p.m. Dec 6 at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Wantland Stadium. Poteau, looking for its first State title, returns to the championship game for the first time since 2013.
Wagoner was held to only 107 yards by 4A’s top-ranked defense. It was the Bulldogs’ lowest scoring output since the last game of the previous decade – a 20-0 loss to Oklahoma City Douglass in the 2009 quarterfinals.
“I thought both defenses played a tremendous game,” Wagoner coach Dale Condict said. “Their defense really stymied us. They made us try to find ways to move the ball and we just couldn’t. I feel bad for our guys, our defense fought real hard tonight. We shut down an offense that was very potent all year. Our defense played well enough to win, we just didn’t do enough on offense. Their big noseguard (Tuifua) is a tremendous player.”
The last time that Wagoner lost a game when it held an opponent under 10 points was in 1994. That team qualified for the playoffs and went 6-5 despite losses of 7-3 to Webster and 7-0 to Miami.
On Friday, Wagoner led 3-0 at hafltime, but Poteau’s defense set the tone for the second half by forcing the Bulldogs (10-3) into a three-and-out and then the Pirates drove 76 yards in 18 plays — half of them carries by Barcheers.
“He took over the game,” Poteau coach Greg Werner said about Barcheers.
The drive that took 8:28, however, was sparked by quarterback Easton Francis’ 15-yard completion to Colton Williamson on a fourth-and-1 fake punt from the Poteau 33. Earlier in the game, Francis was intercepted by Drew Mills also on a fake punt.
“You’ve got to do some crazy things to win a game,” Werner said.
Francis added about the successful fake punt, “I figure we should take our chances, it’s the last game, it’s all or nothing right now. I thought we would try it since we hadn’t run that one in an actual game. It helped us out, it was a momentum switch.”
Jayden Mankin capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run on a sweep with 1:30 left in the third.
Wagoner had one scoring threat in the second half as Marcus Newton’s 17-yard punt return plus a Poteau personal foul penalty enabled the Bulldogs to start their final possession at the Pirates 44. But the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs as they went four-and-out.
“We were just trying not to panic,” Tuifua said. “We just had to do what we do best and that’s play defense.”
The Pirates then ran out the final four minutes on a cold night that included heavy to moderate rain throughout the game. The start was delayed one hour due to lightning in the area.
Wagoner’s points came on Jaden Snyder’s 29-yard field goal with 8:44 left in the second quarter, set up by Mills’ interception at midfield. Poteau’s best scoring chance in the first half ended when Wagoner’s Logan Cole recovered a fumble on a sack at the 50.
The Pirates, however, capitalized on their only other scoring opportunity and that was enough to end the Bulldogs’ season. Poteau avenged losses to Wagoner in the 2016 and ’17 playoffs.