BLANCHARD – Destiny Christian didn’t make many mistakes Saturday afternoon, but when it did, an opportunistic Ethan Pilant made sure to capitalize.
Returning an onside kick for a touchdown is as weird as it is unique, but the Claremore Christian senior did it twice within 34 seconds of game time to trim a 26-point deficit to 14. He notched his first rare score with 27 seconds until halftime and then tallied the next one on the opening kickoff of the second half, taking only seven seconds off the clock.
“The only thing that really went through my mind was, ‘If I see an opening, I’m going to attack it,’” Pilant said. “And they left me an opening, and that’s all you gotta wish for. I was very surprised when they happened. The first one I was super hyped, and the second one was just given to me.”
However, those returns were just about the only success the Warriors could manage for most of the game.
CCS scored only one offensive touchdown and was outgained by 488 yards in a 68-18 loss to the Wildcats in the Heartland Christian Athletic Association Class 3A state championship game on Jerry Wallis Field at Bridge Creek High School. The Warriors entered the contest surrendering 21.8 points per game
“It felt really good to actively contribute to my team even though we did lose; we didn’t win,” said Pilant, who also recovered a fumble and rushed for 41 yards on eight carries. “But it was worth a shot, and we gave it our best.”
The Warriors (8-2) kept it close early and trailed 8-6 after one quarter, but their chances to win a second state title in three years began unraveling in the second frame.
DCS (9-1) scored 24 unanswered points through the ensuing 11:23 before Pilant’s first onside return, putting the Warriors in a desperate situation. Wildcats quarterback Noah Clabaugh sparked the run with touchdown scampers of 12 and 19 yards, and running back Adrian Wright capped it with a 31-yard score.
The pair accounted for 412 of DCS’s 626 yards of offense, with Clabaugh throwing for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 6-of-12 passing while rushing for 124 yards and three scores on seven carries, and Wright finished with 119 yards rushing and two scores on 10 carries to go along with a 30-yard reception.
Cory Love led the rushing attack that totaled 445 yards, registering 160 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. He completed three pop passes for 12 yards in the first quarter as well, tossing a 7-yard touchdown to Tanner Morstad – who registered six receptions for 114 yards and two scores – on his final attempt to give DCS an 8-0 lead at the 9:35 mark.
CCS coach Ryan Mullins, who coached his final game after 16 seasons at the helm, was complimentary of the Wildcats’ ability to disrupt his defensive line for chunk plays.
In all, DCS managed 12 runs of 15 yards or more and four passes of at least 28 yards. Eight of those plays resulted in touchdowns.
“The other team just worked harder than us, and we were just outmatched,” Mullins said. “That’s just the way it is; there’s not a whole lot to say. Their line did a good job, and they’ve got nice-looking boys that work hard. Their line does a great job, so we knew we were going to have our hands full with that. That’s a good ball club over there; that’s a good team.”
Clabaugh was responsible for five chunk touchdowns, scoring on runs of 12, 19 and 65 yards while throwing scoring strikes of 66 and 37 yards to Morstad and Carter Folsom, respectively. Wright had two, scoring from 31 and 69 yards out, and Love found the end zone on a 15-yard run.
All that success came despite losing the turnover battle 2-1.
The CCS offense, which had averaged 51.9 points per game, mustered only three chunk plays and 138 yards on 43 plays.
Of course, the wind played a role in those struggles.
Mullins planned to utilize a passing attack, but with wind gusts reaching up to 45 mph, he was forced to settle with an ineffective run game that was held to 1.5 yards per carry. The Warriors struggled to keep drives alive as a result, going 0-of-8 on third downs while converting only one fourth down. They didn’t punt.
The wind did assist quarterback Tyler Stephens in delivering a 58-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Parrott with 1:19 remaining in the first quarter, but that was by far his longest completion. He finished with 95 yards on 6-of-14 passing.
Two of those passes went for no gain, and another resulted in a 5-yard loss. Parrott was the team’s leading receiver, catching three balls for 77 yards.
“Normally if we win the toss, we take the ball first,” Mullins said. “We felt like it was important for us to get started fast, but we went ahead and took the direction with the wind instead – which helped us – and my thought was if we could get up two or three scores or at least score a couple, I could come back in the second half and endure and keep things going and win the third quarter, and maybe (the wind) will have died down. But that second quarter went on forever, and we gave up 24 points, and that was tough.”
In eight-man football, a mercy rule is implemented once a team leads by 45 points or more at halftime or at any point in the second half.
The Wildcats surpassed that threshold with 9:26 remaining after Wright rushed 69 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-down play, but much to the dismay of Mullins and the CCS coaching staff, the game wasn’t called.
In a seemingly last-second decision, the HCAA instead opted for a running clock. After the touchdown and successful 2-point conversion, though, the Warriors took their time returning to the field and considered conceding anyway.
“We weren’t necessarily too interested in sitting here getting beat 80-18 or something,” Mullins said, “so we just had a team conversation and asked the guys, ‘Where are you at? Do you want to keep playing?’ The coaching staff was a little frustrated about that, honestly. We’ve been on both sides – we’ve given 45 points, and we’ve had it handed to us – and we’re OK with it. It is what it is, but a lot of our boys play basketball starting Monday, so sitting out here in a game that’s done, I’m not interested in doing it just so some team gets their jollies.
“When it’s over it’s over, and that’s fine, but I got guys starting basketball, and they need to be healthy.”
Mullins now bids farewell to a program he helped build in 2005, and though CCS will look different next year under new tutelage, he is confident the returning players will recover from this loss and have another successful season.
“We have a bunch of guys who worked hard, and the underclassmen will keep working and come back next year and keep going,” he said.