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Early exit Holdenville’s Josiah Nyberg, shown in action earlier this season, had one catch for 13 yards in Friday night’s 28-21 home loss to Hartshorne in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. The Wolverines finished the season 8-3.

Photo by Richard R. Barron
Ada Evening News

Holdenville and Hartshorne were in the zone — the Twilight Zone — for a good portion of their Class 2A first-round playoff showdown Friday night at Wolverine Stadium.

Key penalties and injuries, untimely turnovers and downright crazy plays were the rule rather than the exception in a game Holdenville was favored to win after crushing the Miners, 33-7, in the second week of the regular season.

But Hartshorne quarterback Austin Kirkes — who sat out almost all of the first meeting between the two teams with an injury — shredded the Holdenville defense for 235 total yards and engineered two long fourth-quarter scoring drives to lead the Miners a 28-21 upset over the injury-riddled and mistake-plagued Wolverines.

With the victory, the Miners improved to 6-5 and earned a trip to Tulsa to play fourth-ranked (and defending 2A state champion) Lincoln Christian. Holdenville finished the season 8-3.

“(Kirkes) was a handful,” Holdenville coach Butch Rawls said. “We saw him right off the bat in the first game, but he got hurt in the first quarter.

“We just didn’t tackle very well,” he added. “The kids hustled and the heart was there, but we just came out flat and had too many kids standing on the sideline when we needed them on the field.”

Senior Denzel Hughes, who had eight interceptions on the year and also entered the game among the state’s leaders in touchdown receptions with 12, was battling a nagging back injury and didn’t play defense at all and didn’t touch the ball on offense until the fourth quarter; No. 1 tailback Colt Jett — who played Friday with a hip pointer and a knee injury — had just one carry before concentrating solely on defense (where he had a team-high 13 tackles) the rest of the game; and No. 2 tailback Caleb Deer suffered an ankle injury after carrying the ball twice in the first quarter and didn’t return.

“Three of our better players couldn’t go both ways and weren’t 100 percent,” Rawls said.

Led by Kirkes and tailback Garrett Grivette, the Hartshorne offense took advantage of Holdenville’s injury situation to score early and late in a wild first half and on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, after the third of four Wolverine turnovers finally swung the momentum in favor of the visitors.

Junior quarterback Collin Meadors ran for 23 yards and passed for 14 more and emergency tailback Landon Stallings added 31 yards on two carries on an impressive drive that started at the Holdenville 14 with 7:19 left in the third quarter. The Wolverines moved to the Hartshorne 2 in 11 plays, but Meadors fumbled into the end zone on the 12th play, and the Miners recovered for a touchback at the 3:43 mark.

Hartshorne (6-5) followed the turnover with an 80-yard, 10-play drive to the go-ahead touchdown capped by Grivette’s five-yard burst up the middle on the second play of the fourth quarter. Kirkes — who finished with 162 yards on 34 carries — gained 31 yards on four carries and completed passes of 16 yards (on third and 10 from the Hartshorne 40) and eight yards to wideout Tyler Capps, and Grivette — who had 101 yards and two touchdowns on 18 trips — carried four times for another 20 yards on the drive.

The Wolverines got one first down on the ensuing possession before one of their five dropped passes in the game led to a 38-yard punt by Jose Velazquez. Kolton Montgomery returned the kick 12 yards, but a block in the back on the return pushed Hartshorne back to the 14.

Poor field position was only a minor inconvenience for Kirkes, Grivette and the Miner offense, however. Kirkes slipped two tackles and gained 18 yards on the first play after the punt, and Grivette added a tough 23-yard run to the Holdenville 45 one snap later.

An off-sides penalty against Holdenville on a fourth-and-1 gave Hartshorne another first down at the 31, then Kirkes gained 11 more to the 20. But the next three plays gained nothing, and the Miners faced a fourth-and-10 after Wesley Linker and Cody Davenport stopped Kirkes for a one-yard loss on third down.

Again, though, Kirkes came back with a big play, finding Capps alone down the right sideline and hitting him with a perfect pass at the 1. The junior wideout trotted untouched into the end zone, and the extra point gave Hartshorne a 28-14 lead with just 3:59 to play.

Meadors led the Wolverines on an eight-play, 64-yard drive capped by his 30-yard touchdown pass to Hughes with just over two minutes remaining to trim the deficit to seven, and after Rawls used his three timeouts on the ensuing Hartshorne possession (which netted just six yards), the Miners punted the ball back to the Wolverines with 1:48 still showing on the clock.

But facing a second-and-10 from his 21, Meadors threw a sideline pass that was intercepted by Nathan Hawley at the 32, and Kirkes took a knee on three straight snaps to run out the clock.

“I think the kids had it in the back of their minds, ‘we’re gonna beat these guys’,” Rawls said. “It’s tough to beat a team a second time. I tried to tell the kids all week that (Hartshorne) had improved a whole lot, but we were just a step off all night.

“It’s hard to live this one down,” he said. “The best team didn’t win.”

Hartshorne was clearly the best team in the first half, dominating time of possession by a 2-1 margin and outgaining Holdenville, 169-133. But after the Miners drove 45 yards in just three plays to the game’s first touchdown (on a 32-yard run by Kirkes) just 70 seconds in, the Miners, the Wolverines and the officials working the game turned the rest of the half into a comedy of errors where nobody was laughing.

Kirkes passed for 23 yards and ran for 21 more as the Miners drove from their 21 to the Holdenville 30 on their second possession of the game, but the junior signal-caller fumbled at the 15 after gaining 14 yards on fourth-and-inches, and Linker recovered for the Wolverines and returned the ball to the 19.

Stalling, who finished with a team-high 86 yards on nine carries, gained 26 yards on the next play, but one snap later Meadors’ pass to the right sideline went through Deer’s hands and was intercepted by Capps, who returned the ball to the Holdenville 26 to start the second-half weirdness.

Kirkes ripped off runs of 15, 12 and 17 yards and Holdenville was also hit with a questionable horse-collar penalty on the ensuing possession, but, because of three high snaps out of the shotgun that glanced off Kirkes’ hands for losses totaling 33 yards, the Miners managed just one first down.

The penalty helped Kirkes convert a second-and-19 (which would have been a third-and-31 without the penalty) into a first-and-goal at the 8 following his 12-yard run on fourth-and-4.

Another high snap resulted in a 12-yard loss, then Kirkes scrambled for 17 yards on the next play, but  the threat ended when Blake Johnson batted down Kirkes’ fourth-down pass to Capps in the right front corner of the end zone just five seconds into the second period.

The teams exchanged punts over the next eight-plus minutes, then the first Hartshorne turnover of the half — a fumbled snap by Kirkes that was recovered by Holdenville’s Austin Baca at the Miners’ 28 — kick-started a wild sequence during which three touchdowns were scored in the final 2:21 before intermission.

One play after the fumble, Meadors found Stallings alone on the right sideline and hit him in stride for a touchdown to tie the game, and three plays later Stallings picked off a Kirkes pass at the Hartshorne 46 and returned it down the same sideline for a touchdown to give the Wolverines their only lead of the night with 1:15 left in the half.

No Hartshorne players attempted to field the ensuing kickoff, which fluttered high in the air and was recovered by Baca at the Miner 49 after being pushed backward by a stiff north wind. The officials ruled the Wolverines had touched the ball before it went 10 yards, however, and awarded possession to Hartshorne at the Holdenville 49.

“We slowed the film down, and our kids didn’t touch the ball early,” Rawls said. “The kick went to the (Hartshorne) 45, and blew backward. (Baca) was standing right at the 50, and he fell on it right there.”

The Minors managed just four yards on three plays after the kickoff, and Kauley’s perfect 44-yard punt was downed at the 1 with just 12 seconds showing on the clock. Meadors gained six yards on a keeper off left guard on the next play, but he fumbled on his way to the ground and the Miners got the ball back at the 7 with four seconds left.

With no margin for error, Grivette swept left end for the touchdown and a 14-14 tie at the break.

“That fumble really hurt,” Rawls said. “We would have been up 14-7 at the half and we would have had all the momentum going to the third quarter.”

Meadors, who threw for four touchdowns in the first meeting with Hartshorne, was just 6-for-19 Friday for 104 yards and, although he tossed two touchdown passes, he was also intercepted twice. The junior lefty added 70 yards rushing (51 in the second half) on 12 carries and joined Stallings to pace a Holdenville ground game that accounted for 206 yards.

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