By DYLAN GOFORTH
MUSKOGEE — Caden Pratt had done just about everything you could reasonably expect of him. Time and time again, the junior quarterback had spun, fought, dove and reached for crucial first downs for McAlester in the Buffaloes’ quest to reach the state championship game.
But that quest ran out of gas Friday in Muskogee, as McAlester suffered a 26-14 loss to Tulsa East Central.
Trailing by six points, facing a do-or-die 4th-and-seven from the Cardinals’ 43 yard line with just over two minutes left in the game, Pratt threw just his sixth pass of the game. He’d completed four of his previous five attempts, however this pass bounced harmlessly off the Indian Bowl turf.
“Caden fought and battled out there,” said McAlester coach Bryan Pratt. “The whole team just fought so hard, but we came up a little short. That scoreboard isn’t indicative of how close this game was.”
East Central moves on to face Carl Albert in the state title game. Carl Albert knocked off Bishop McGuinness 56-33 on Friday.
Pratt ran the ball an astounding 41 times for 145 yards, including a third quarter 18-yard jaunt into the end zone that tied the game at 14-14.
Bryan Pratt said the Buffaloes’ game plan was to grind it out and wear down an East Central (9-4) squad he said was filled with superior athletes.
And McAlester (8-5) did that. At times the offense seemed unstoppable — not so much a roaring wave of offense, but a slow, steady force. Pratt would take a snap out of the shotgun, survey the Cardinals’ defense and then pick up three or four yards seemingly at will, over and over.
But when McAlester needed those seven yards, its offense had run out of gas.
“We knew we couldn’t line up one-on-one with them,” Bryan Pratt said. “They are so fast and so athletic, we knew that wouldn’t work. Our offense had to pound the ball into them to be effective and we did that most of the night.”
The Buffaloes got on the scoreboard first, using Pratt and running back Jarome Smith to pound away at the Cardinals defense. McAlester traveled 91 yards in 16 plays spanning more than seven minutes during its first scoring drive. The Buffs threw the ball just twice during the drive — a 10-yard screen pass to Cade Harkins on a crucial third and seven and a 12-yard pass to Smith on the very next play. Otherwise, it was all done on the ground, as Pratt racked up 47 yards on nine carries during the drive. Smith ran the ball three times for 13 yards, including a 6-yard scamper into the end zone.
East Central answered 10 minutes later, when the Cardinals’ sophomore quarterback Trevaugn Cherry hooked up with University of Oklahoma commit Stanvon Taylor for a 24-yard score. A two-point conversion gave East Central an 8-6 lead.
The Cardinals then saw two golden opportunities to extend their first half lead slip right through their fingers. Literally.
East Central held McAlester to a three-and-out as the Buffaloes tried to run the first half clock out. Starting out at their own 29 yard line after a 43-yard punt, Cherry found Taylor with a 10-yard pass. Two plays later, Cherry rolled out of the pocket and lofted a pass down the right sideline to a streaking Deontre Youngblood.
Youngblood got his hands on the ball, but didn’t have a firm grasp and watched the ball drop to the turf after two McAlester defensive backs converged on him.
On the next play, Cherry escaped pressure and rolled to his left, this time floating a pass deep to Taylor, who had cut across the middle of the field and had distance between him and the nearest defender.
Cherry’s pass was under thrown, and Taylor couldn’t hang on to the pass after circling under the ball at the 10 yard line. Taylor lay on the Indian Bowl turf, pounding his hands into the ground in disgust.
Cherry and Taylor hooked up for a second time just 42 seconds into the third quarter on a 47-yard dart, giving the Cardinals a 14-7 lead.
McAlester answered on its next drive. Pratt capped off a 11-play, 77-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown to make it 14-14 with 6:35 to go in the third quarter.
East Central took the lead for good on an 11-yard run by running back William Goree. After McAlester’s ensuing drive faltered, East Central’s Taylor iced the game with a 57-yard run off an end-around.
“This is a great team we have here, and a great group of seniors,” Bryan Pratt said about his group. “We made it to the semifinals for the second year in a row. I don’t think anybody expected that. We’ll be back. We’ll be back in the mix.”