NOBLE — Verdigris coach Travis East knew a quick start was essential to his team’s success.
After winning the coin toss and electing to defer, he looked to use the opening kickoff as a catalyst to that objective by trapping Plainview near the sideline.
Not only would it give the Cardinals an early advantage, but it would also remedy the kickoff defense issues experienced against Perkins-Tryon in the quarterfinals.
However, the kick went out of bounds.
The Indians, in hopes of a big return, then chose to make Verdigris rekick instead of taking the ball at the 35-yard line.
That decision paid off.
Jaxon Clemons returned the rekick 86 yards for a touchdown, and No. 3 Plainview took off from there for a 55-13 win in the Class 3A semifinals at Noble High School Stadium on Friday night.
“We had some issues with the kicking game last week,” East said. “We tried to solve some of them, but we just didn’t cover very well. We just didn’t execute.”
Verdigris finished the season with a 10-3 record, the best mark in school history.
The Indians (11-1) will play Lincoln Christian at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the state championship game at the University of Central Oklahoma's Wantland Stadium. The Bulldogs (13-0) ousted defending champion Heritage Hall, 33-6, on Friday.
Led by quarterback Brock Parham, Plainview racked up 349 yards.
Parham rushed for 85 yards on nine carries, scoring on keepers of 15, 5 and 43 yards while also throwing for 68 yards and a touchdown on 4-of-9 passing.
The 43-yard score came on a fourth-down play with 4:57 left in the third quarter, pushing the Plainview advantage to 48-7.
“We thought he was pretty good on film, and he was even better in person,” East said. “He wasn’t easy to tackle, and he’s a really good player all around.”
Blake Nowell was the touchdown recipient on a 21-yard pop pass, giving the Indians a 35-0 lead with 25 seconds until halftime. He also notched an interception.
Tyson Al Jbour was a force on the ground as well, tallying 12 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns on runs of 60 and 5 yards.
Blue Norman notched Plainview’s final score of the night, slipping through several tackles on the way to a 31-yard touchdown run with 3:03 remaining in the third. He finished with 57 yards on 14 carries.
In all, the Indians rushed for 281 yards and six touchdowns on 47 carries, managing just under 6 yards per touch.
To make matters worse, Plainview successfully converted on 4 of 5 fourth downs.
Meanwhile, Verdigris punted eight times while picking up only six first downs.
It was the worst offensive outing for the Cardinals since their season-opening 49-13 loss to defending Class 2A champion Sperry on Sept. 6.
On top of committing two turnovers, Verdigris was held to minus-11 yards rushing and 121 yards total by the stout Plainview defense that allows only 15.9 points per game.
Although freshman running back Caden Parnell led the Cardinals on the ground with 32 yards on 11 carries, Plainview's seven tackles for loss cost Verdigris 63 yards.
Verdigris went scoreless until the 7:52 mark in the third quarter when Sloan Roller scored on a 5-yard run.
“Plainview is a really good team, and they played really well all night long,” East said. “They were physical, and we just didn’t have a very good night offensively.”
Freshman Dylan White experienced his first true adversity as a starting quarterback, throwing two interceptions while completing 15 of 28 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
His lone scoring throw came when he corralled a bad snap on fourth down and heaved it to Toby Willis in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown with 1:27 remaining.
“It’s not a good way to end it, but I’m proud of our season,” White said. “There’s motivation like crazy. I just wanna go to work and ball all offseason.”
East said White has tremendous upside, and for good reason.
Despite starting only seven of 13 games, White threw for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns with five interceptions, completing about 59.7 percent of his passes.
Under the watchful eye of East, White could quickly develop into one of the state’s top quarterbacks.
“Dylan is a phenomenal kid, and he’s going to be a phenomenal football player,” East said. “He’s already a phenomenal football player. He didn’t have a great night, but that in no way defines him. He’ll work to get better and better.”
Of course, some of the offensive struggles also stemmed from the Indians’ coverage of star receiver Toby Willis.
A week after finishing with 191 yards receiving and three touchdowns on seven receptions against Class 3A’s second-ranked defense, Willis managed only 61 yards and one touchdown on eight catches.
“They did double and triple teams and had good coverages,” Willis said. “They knew what to do and studied us. They have a good football team, but we just didn’t play very well tonight.”
Willis is one of 13 seniors that helped resurrect the Verdigris football program under East’s tutelage.
Since East took over in 2016, this group of seniors witnessed some low valleys and high peaks, but none were higher than the team’s postseason run this year.
This year’s 10 wins nearly equaled the win total from the last three years combined (12), giving the seniors a career record of 22-22.
“They found a way to fight from three wins (2016) to 10 wins and going to the semifinals,” East said. “That’s something to be very proud of. They were my first group of seniors I’ve had for four years, and I love those guys. They’re irreplaceable.
“I’m proud of what they’ve done, and they’ll go and be great men.”