GLENPOOL — Oologah was in need of a boost Friday night. The Class 4A No. 3 Mustangs were facing a seven-point deficit as halftime approached.
That’s when nose guard Stephen Long — all 6 feet, 2 inches and 290 pounds of him — came to the rescue.
Oologah’s defensive lineman hauled in Poteau quarterback Ben Klutts’ pass for an interception with 2:04 left in the second quarter. Oologah scored a touchdown six plays later and the Mustangs rode that momentum the rest of the game to a 29-7 4A semifinal victory over second-ranked Poteau at Glenpool Stadium.
“That was an amazing feeling,” Long said of his first-ever interception. “It created a big turnaround, and we were ready for the fight in the second half.”
A little guidance from Oologah coach Brandon Craig helped put Long in position to swing the momentum back to the Mustangs (11-3).
“(Poteau) is a screen team, so we coached them up a little bit this week, talking about the nose drop and being aware of screens,” Craig said. “And, man, he was alert and he grabbed the ball out of the air, and it was a beautiful thing.”
Using the jolt from late in the first half, Oologah struck quickly in the third quarter. A 35-yard Jimmy McKinney run on the second play of the second half set up Casey Base’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Breyden DeSpain two plays later.
Down 12-7, Poteau (12-1) went three-and-out and punted to Oologah’s 35-yard line, and Base and DeSpain hooked up on the very next play for a 65-yard touchdown. In an instant, the Mustangs led 19-7 with 8:42 left in the third quarter.
“They decided to take the wind in the fourth quarter, and we thought in the third quarter we’d attack them a little bit down the field,” Craig said. “With the wind, we thought it was time. Plus, they gave us some one-on-one stuff (on DeSpain).”
DeSpain finished with six catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Base completed 11 of 21 passes for 174 yards, and he also accounted for a 15-yard touchdown run for Oologah’s final score in the third quarter.
Despite not finding the end zone, McKinney ran 31 times for 200 yards, with 149 yards coming in the second half.
“No. 40 is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around,” Craig said of McKinney, a Kansas State commit. “He’s a huge part of why we’re in this situation.”
Poteau running back Roger Barcheers, who entered with 2,097 rushing yards in 12 games, was limited to 42 yards on 22 carries. And of the Pirates’ eight first downs, none came via the ground game.
“We played them last year, and they were in a different offense but it was the same guy,” Craig said of Oologah’s 42-0 playoff victory over Poteau last season. “(Barcheers) is a very special football player, and for us to go out there and (do) that against him is something special.”
Now Oologah will get a rematch with Wagoner in the 4A championship game after watching the Bulldogs claim the title with a 45-21 triumph in Broken Arrow last December.
“We’re real excited,” Long said of the rematch.
Said Craig: “Everything from last year pointed to this happening again. It’s one of those things where we want to hold up our end of the bargain and go back and try to play a better game this year. I think last year our guys were just excited to be there, and I think our guys have a different focus this year.”
Both teams spent the first quarter and a half trading punts and turnovers on downs. Jesse Barnes attempted a 35-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the first quarter, but a chilling wind out of the north killed the ball before it could reach the crossbar.
The Pirates later advanced to Oologah’s 33-yard line in the early in the second quarter, but Klutts unraveled an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Quick three-and-outs by both Oologah and Poteau would set up the first score, with a Poteau punt down to Oologah’s 5-yard line. On the next play, Oologah quarterback Base was picked off by Poteau’s Mason Grimm, who returned the ball 25 yards for a touchdown with 6:58 left in the second period.
Oologah’s first score came six minutes and 30 seconds later on Base’s 12-yard touchdown pass to DeSpain at the left pylon. A bad snap on the point-after attempt, though, kept the Mustangs from tying the game.
The Mustangs would recover the ensuing kickoff and reach Poteau’s 11-yard line, but Oologah’s Ethan Clark missed a 29-yard field goal before the teams headed to the locker room.