VERDIGRIS — Toby Willis confused even himself with his apparent stealthlike routes.
Despite being double and triple teamed most of the game, the Verdigris senior receiver continually found himself alone in the Perkins-Tryon secondary.
Even when adequately covered, he still found ways to come down with well-delivered balls from freshman quarterback Dylan White.
The passes kept coming, and Willis kept catching them.
“My mentality was to go up and get it,” Willis said. “Dylan trusts me, and we trust each other. He put the ball in the right spots, and I just went and caught it.”
White echoed the sentiment.
“Our relationship has gotten strong this year,” he said. “I know I can always throw it up to him and he’ll make a play for me.”
That connection proved lethal on Friday night as Willis shredded the No. 4 Demons for 191 yards receiving and three touchdowns on seven receptions in a 42-28 win in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Cardinal Stadium.
“Nothing beats this feeling, especially with it being my last home game ever,” Willis said of his season-best performance.
Verdigris (10-2) will make its first semifinals appearance in school history against No. 3 Plainview on Friday at Noble High School. The Indians (10-1) dismantled No. 8 Checotah, 58-34, to advance.
P-T (10-2) came into the contest with the second-ranked defense in the class, surrendering only 10.2 points per game.
The Cardinals surpassed that mark with 9:29 remaining in the first half on a 56-yard touchdown strike from White to Willis.
That was Willis’ longest reception of the night, but he went on to score twice more on catches of 20 and 26 yards.
At halftime, Willis had more receiving yards (162) than the Demons had total yards (147).
“I didn’t think we’d put up that many points against their defense,” Willis said. “Their defense has been pretty good all season, and we’ve been watching film on them. Their secondary is pretty good, and they knew how to play it, but we pulled out some other calls we haven’t had all year.”
For White, though, none of the offense’s accomplishments were surprising.
The freshman torched P-T through the air, completing 17 of 23 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
All three categories were career highs.
He also put the Demons away for good with a 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, giving Verdigris a 42-21 advantage with 3:26 remaining.
“I had confidence,” White said. “I believed in us and knew we could do it. “It’s amazing and fun. We’re doing good and gotta keep going.”
Although Willis was his favorite target, White completed passes to four other receivers as well.
Ty Moore led the way with four catches for 127 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals their first double-digit lead, 28-14, with only a minute expired in the third.
Elsewhere, freshman running back Caden Parnell managed 93 yards rushing on 23 carries, scoring from 3 yards out for the game’s first points.
His 32-yard run late in the fourth set up White’s game-clinching score.
Verdigris coach Travis East said he was pleased with the offense’s efficiency and rhythm.
“Our offense and some of those guys, like Toby, create a lot of mismatches,” East said. “And you know what, Dylan did a great job throwing them the ball. Our offense lit it up tonight and clicked the way it can.”
The defense did its part as well, forcing two turnovers while holding P-T to 0-of-3 on fourth-down conversions.
Two of those fourth-down stops came with the Demons deep inside Verdigris territory.
First, the Cardinals stuffed P-T quarterback Austin Mages at the 10-yard line on fourth-and-2 in the third quarter, maintaining their 28-21 lead.
Then in the fourth with the Demons at the Verdigris 23, Carson Calvert intercepted Mages in the end zone and returned it 70 yards to the P-T 30.
A sack from freshman linebacker Reese Roller on third down forced the conversion attempt.
“I couldn’t hear anything right when I caught the ball,” Calvert said. “I thought I could take it all the way. They love to throw it to the corner. I already knew it, and I had it in my mind. I knew it was coming from the get-go.”
It was the Cardinals’ second interception, and they turned it into points two plays later on a 26-yard connection from White to Willis, bringing the score to 35-14 with 9:41 remaining.
Moore notched the first pick on P-T’s opening drive, but Verdigris suffered a turnover of its own the ensuing possession on a fumble at the Demon 13.
Mages, who had thrown only four interceptions all year, completed 6 of 15 passes for 67 yards, but he also rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.
P-T running back Ayron Lawson tallied 16 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals outgained the Demons, 481-310.
“We had a good defense all year, we just gotta play the way we’re capable,” East said. “We have a lot of guys who love to play football and love to fly around, and when they play the way they’re capable, they can do great things.”
In addition to experiencing the semifinals for the first time next week, Verdigris will also get to participate in a long-lasting Oklahoma football tradition — POTD (Practice on Thanksgiving Day).
“We’re going to practice on Thanksgiving Night underneath these lights,” East said. “It feels great. I love this community, and I came here for this reason. To be with this family, this team, this community and to fight and win a championship for them.”
Of course, the Cardinals, who improved their winning streak to eight games, mustn’t get caught in the moment.
Unlike Verdigris, Plainview isn’t new to the semifinal scene.
This will be the Indians third appearance on this stage since 2013, and they are certainly motivated to reach their second state title game in four years.
East knows Plainview’s reputation, though, and doesn’t plan to take the powerhouse lightly.
“They’re good every year,” East said. “They do a great job of coaching them up down there, they’ve got some great players and they’re going to do some really good things.
“We gotta really have a good week of preparation to go play them.”