HILLDALE — It took a full half to get it right, but Hilldale found a way to do Friday night what no team had done this season — slow the Verdigris ground game to a crawl.
Then, the hands of Bradley Campbell and the running of Jamaul Cullom took care of the rest as the Hornets, down 20-7 at the half in this Class 3A playoff, rallied past No. 3 Verdigris 36-23 to get to the third round of the postseason for the first time in school history.
Hilldale (11-1) advances to play Blanchard, a 39-7 winner over Madill, in next week’s quarterfinals. And they’ll do it with a defense that found its swagger after being physically whipped over the first 24 minutes.
Instead of 2,000-yard rusher Tanner Smith, it was his backfield mate J.D. Hanslovan who did the big damage early, scoring on runs of 47 and 25 yards. The bigger of the two backs at 6-0, 210 passed the 100-yard mark a little over a minute into the second quarter. All but one of his seven first-half carries were for nine yards or more.
Smith had 75 yards at the break but it took him 21 carries to do that. It would be a sign of things to come.
The Hornets held them both to a combined 59 yards in the second half.
“We went in and coach (defensive coordinator Travis Bryant) helped us spruce up some things,” said Cullom, an outside linebacker. “We had to squeeze the gaps. They were killing us in those. We pulled it together and everything changed.”
Cullom had a key stop on a fourth down that forced a field goal with Hilldale up 28-20 and had the final defensive stop of the game on a sack near midfield. He ran for three touchdowns, including a 31-yarder that gave the Hornets a 21-20 lead with 5:38 left in the third quarter. He added a 7-yard run with :04 left in the third to make it 28-20 and finished it with a 63-yard burst up the middle for the game’s final score with 3:41 remaining.