Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Jack Busch (71) and Will Clemons (7) zero in on Deshler quarterback Channing Marmann during the Eagles’ 20-14 loss in the Class 4A state football quarterfinals on Nov. 23. (Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Three costly turnovers spoiled Class 4A No. 3 Hokes Bluff’s chances to reach the state semifinals in a 20-14 loss to Deshler on Friday (Nov. 23) at Mike Robertson Stadium.
All three Hokes Bluff turnovers occurred in the first half, and the Tigers (8-5) capitalized on each one as they converted them into 20 points.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” said Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson. “We had a good week of practice, but I was scared to death because (Deshler) is a lot better than everybody knows because they played a tough schedule. I think we played hard but we didn’t play well. Give (Deshler) credit. They hit us in the mouth and did a good job stopping our running game. We got behind, and it forced us to do things we normally don’t want to do.”
The visitors took the opening kickoff and marched down the field on a 14-play drive, but stalled in the red zone and turned the ball over on downs after they couldn’t convert on a double pass. On Hokes Bluff’s opening drive, the Eagles had the Tiger defense on its heels with a mixture of runs by Darrian Meads (pictured above) and play-action passes.
Quarterback Ashton Gulledge made two big throws on the opening drive, including a 21-yard pass to Braydon Hill and an 11-yard strike to Hunter Burke. Gulledge also picked up a fourth-and-2 to keep the drive alive. Meads capped off the 13-play series on a 1-yard touchdown run with six seconds remaining in the first quarter. Ethan Whitcomb’s extra point gave the Eagles a 7-0 advantage.
Deshler responded with a drive into the red zone but the Eagles forced another stop. Hokes Bluff (11-2) went back to the air, and Gulledge connected with Hill on a 52-yard post pattern to set up the Eagles in the red zone. The Eagles fumbled on the following play, however, and missed an opportunity to potentially take a 14-0 lead.
The Tigers quickly responded with a balanced attack led by quarterback Channing Marmann and running back Kameron Pritchard. Marmann finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Stutts to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:30 left in the first half.
On the second play of the Eagles’ following drive, the Tigers forced another fumble and
recovered the ball on Hokes Bluff 20-yard line. Marmann connected with Samuel Almon for a 20-yard touchdown pass on the very next play, and Deshler suddenly had a 14-7 advantage with 2:25 remaining in the opening half.
Hokes Bluff attempted to drive down the field to tie the game but the drive stalled after two penalties. When the Eagles attempted a punt, a bad snap forced Hill to avoid punting. He instead
attempted to run around left end for a first down, but several Tiger defenders forced him to change course. Hill eventually threw the ball up for grabs, and it was intercepted by Deshler’s Charles Peters and returned for a touchdown. The Tigers missed the extra point but carried a 20-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Eagles took the second half kickoff and moved the ball down the field on one of their most timely touchdown drives of the season. Meads did most of the work, though he came out for four plays after tweaking his ankle. When Meads returned, he scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 20-14 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Deshler did not score on its ensuing drive but took up almost the remainder of the third quarter on a 13-play possession. Nevertheless, the Eagles forced a stop and took over on downs at their own 11.
Hokes Bluff had three offensive possessions in the fourth quarter but did not record a first down on the first two drives. Deshler put together a pair of nine-play drives in the final quarter that did not result in points but did chew most of the game clock.
The Eagles had one final chance to score on their last drive with 1:50 remaining in the game. They started on their own 15-yard line, and Gulledge found Hill for a 14-yard gain on fourth-and-8 to keep the drive alive. the Tigers forced two incompletions on the next two plays, however, and Andre Poe intercepted a pass to secure the 20-14 victory.
Robertson said the uncharacteristic turnovers ultimately plagued the Eagles.
“Deshler controlled the ball and kept the ball from us, and they did a good job doing what we normally do,” he said. “They kept us backed up, and we didn’t have good field position all night. We had a chance to go up 14-0 after Braydon made a great catch, but we didn’t finish that drive after the turnover. I’m disappointed we didn’t finish that drive to go up 14-0.”
The Tigers advance to the semifinals to take on Oneonta. Hokes Bluff defeated Oneonta, 49-7, earlier in the season.
“We had a great year,” Robertson said. “I’m very satisfied as far as what we’ve accomplished. When you get close again, you want to try to keep going. I’m really proud of our seniors and coaches. We went through a lot of adversity this year. We’ve got guys playing with casts on. I’m disappointed, but we had a really good year.”
Meads led the Eagles offensively with 103 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Gulledge completed 11-of-21 passes for 146 yards. Hill caught six passes for 98 yards. Tristin Billingsley caught two passes for 22 yards, while Jackson Fielding hauled in two passes for 16 yards.
Defensively, Austin Elder had seven tackles, followed by Will Clemons with six. Elder and Houston Edwards had a sack.
For Deshler, Marmann completed 17-of-23 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 53 yards on 15 carries. Pritchard rushed for 78 yards on 17 carries. Almon caught three passes for 71 yards and a score, while Stutts caught six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.
Robertson said he was proud of his senior class, which helped guide the Eagles to three straight appearances in the quarterfinals and one appearance in the semifinals.
“Going back to Fisher Simmons and that bunch two years ago, we were 0-3.” he said. “When you get close, you want to keep going. It takes a lot of luck. We think back to 2001 and the years we’ve been to the semifinals, it takes luck with the matchups. We just didn’t do what it took to win (tonight), but I’m very thankful we had a great year.”