Art Lawler Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Durant — It took East Central University 9.75 games to understand what the coaching staff has been saying since the beginning of the season.
The Tigers finally stood up to adversity, looked defeat square in the jaws and manned up.
The result was an exciting 23-16 win over Southeastern Oklahoma State University at Paul Laird Field.
It wasn’t the victory that was impressive. In fact, at times, it was unimpressive. But when the going got tough, the Tigers got going.
In the end, in a battle of arch rivals, the Tigers wanted this GAC contest a little more than the Savages.
The Tigers began offensively as if stuck in concrete, relying heavily on a defense that keeps getting better.
They hung on for victory over a very serious Savage-Storm comeback attempt.
How serious? How about four straight defensive stops at its own nine-yard line. But for a stupid motion penalty against Southeastern, the Savages would have had four shots at banging it in from the four-yard line.
Those odds were dismal for a goal line stand, considering Savage running back Devon Wortham had just single-handedly put the Savages at the four by carrying a good portion of the Tigers on his back for 22 yards after taking a short pass from quarterback Nick Sioson.
Why Wortham never saw the ball on those last four plays is a question for Savage coaches to ponder.
As it was, they didn’t gain an inch throwing the ball four straight times at the Tigers’ defensive secondary.
When the Savages closed the deficit to a touchdown and extra point earlier in the fourth period, they did so by handing the ball to Wortham who plowed into the end zone from 10 yards out.
How about him doing that four different times at the end, or giving it to him on a short, swing pass in the backfield, or a draw play and giving him room to rumble?
Wortham had gone over the 1,000 yard rushing mark — over the 1,100 mark, actually — and finished with 138 yards rushing for the contest.
He was clearly Southeastern’s best player running the ball. They went, instead, at the Tigers’ best players, and the Savages lost.
Far be it for the Tigers to question the other team’s play selection. Their job was to put down any challenge Southeastern threw at them.
Southeastern was hardly without talent. Kaymon Farmer and Anthony Foster finished the season with over 1,000 yards, and he and Farmer both ended the year with at least 75 catches, another school record.
Quarterback Nick Sioson was 28 of 52 for 253 yards. A 44-yard touchdown play, Sionon to Foster in the first period put the Savages on top, 9-0.
Prior to this game, the Tigers had whipped up on some “have nots” and beaten a pretty fair Southwestern team in a close one. The best teams had their way with East Central, prompting Coach Tim McCarty to say, “We’ve discovered a problem that is going to be the emphasis of our off-season program.”
In addition to those four defended passes at crunch time, there was Lindsey Anderson returning a fumble 36 yards for a score at the 13:27 mark just after the half, and Bond picking up another TD on a one-yard keeper with 7:06 remaining to put the Storm in a 23-9 hole.
Caleb Holley, who turned into Spencer Bond’s most reliable receiver this season, set a school record for yards in a season, just missing the 1,000 yard mark with 970 yards. He had a 9-yard second quarter touchdown to help erase the Savages’ early 9-0 lead and 64 yards in receptions for the day.
Trevor Hunt’s 28-yard field goal tied it 9-9 before halftime.
When they’re hearing those two words, mental toughness, drilled into them in the off-season, they may be reminded of last week’s game.
It wasn’t an example of how to play the game but it may have been a start in defining the importance of attitude amidst adversity.
The Tiger defense had to have the patience of Job to wait for the sluggish offense to get untracked. Time and again, the Savages began their offensive marches inside Tiger territory.
Most of the time, the defense was up to the task, and, thanks in part to some heavy hitting, the Savages turned the ball over five times in this game.
In the end, the Tigers produced 23-unanswered points to provide the margin of victory. Of course, six of those points came junior Dustin Holland, who made the play of the game.
• He sacked the quarterback and made him fumble.
• He picked up the fumble and ran it 36 yards for a touchdown.
Holland finished with 4.5 tackles, two sacks and the forced fumble.
“It was a great win for our seniors,” McCarty said after the game.
ECU quarterback Spencer Bond had a workmanlike game (for him) by completing 14 of 27 passing for 216 yards, his only bad moment coming with an end zone interception that could have put the game out of reach.
Bond also put the final points on the board with a one-yard touchdown after the Savages had cut the margin.
Tiger linebacker Cole Weber and senior Ruben Tiller had interceptions for East Central that thwarted Savage drives.
It may have looked like the end — and for a group of seniors, it was.
For the rest of the team, it looked like the beginning of better days.