INOLA — Landon Prows was simply trying to avoid a safety.
As the junior rolled to his right to escape pressure, the words of Inola coach Jeff Williams echoed in his mind.
‘Throw it in the dirt if nothing is there or if you feel pressure.’
Prows, an obedient quarterback, tried to do as his coach instructed, but he was hit from behind while releasing the ball.
Instead of the play resulting in an incomplete pass, the ball landed in the hands of Cascia Hall linebacker Patrick Pixley, who was already in the end zone, for a touchdown with 2:12 remaining in the first half.
It was one of three interceptions and four turnovers total for the Commandos’ defense, which suffocated Inola on the way to a 42-7 win in District 3A-4 action at Longhorn Stadium on Thursday night.
Prows, who is among the state’s top-15 leaders in passing yards, completed 16 of 33 passes for 176 yards despite his three giveaways.
“They just spread everyone out and did a drop coverage in zone,” Prows said. “We just had trouble finding areas that we could attack.”
Prows was sacked seven times for minus-28 yards as Inola finished with only 84 yards rushing on 32 carries, about 2.6 yards per touch.
However, it could’ve been much worse if not for some late-game heroics from sophomore running back Jace King.
His 77-yard touchdown run with 4:34 remaining in the fourth quarter helped the Longhorns stave off their first shutout loss since the 2018 season opener, a 50-0 decision against Lincoln Christian.
“I’m glad we were able to get that one touchdown,” said King, who finished with 80 yards on three carries. “The team did a lot of amazing blocks for me to get that touchdown. I got outside of everybody and saw the homestretch. I just turned it up and ran.
“It made me have a little more hope than we originally had when being shut out.”
Coach Williams gave credit to Cascia Hall (7-3, 6-1 District 3A-4) for causing his offense to sputter so early and often, holding it nearly 29 points under its season average.
Inola entered the contest averaging about 35.9 points per game.
“With how they were defending us, we needed to be able to run the football to start the game to try to dictate how they were taking away our quick passing game, and we ultimately didn’t do that,” Williams said. “We didn’t have a lot of success running the football early, and a couple of boneheaded plays here and there really got us behind the 8-ball.”
Cascia Hall struggled with its rushing attack as well, tallying 44 yards on 26 carries, but that was counteracted by an efficient outing from quarterback Jaxon Henderson.
The senior threw for 245 yards and three scores on 11-of-19 passing, and perhaps his favorite target was Zach Uhren.
Uhren, also a senior, snagged four receptions for 105 yards while scoring on catches of 76 and 15 yards, the former of which gave the Commandos a 35-0 halftime lead.
It was Flynn Sage, though, who got Cascia Hall going early.
The sophomore scored from 3 yards out with 4:39 left in the first quarter two plays after intercepting Prows, and he followed up by hauling in a 55-yard touchdown strike from Henderson early in the second, making it 14-0.
Shortly thereafter, Dylan Wilson powered into the end zone on a short run following a 54-yard punt return from Uhren that put the Commandos at the Inola 1-yard line.
In all, the Commandos outgained the Longhorns by only 36 yards, 296-260. The teams combined for 15 punts and only three successful third and fourth-down conversions on 25 attempts.
“You hate to lose any game in that fashion,” Williams said. “It’s a little bittersweet to send our seniors out this way. Our seniors were a group that not only didn’t win a game in seventh or eighth grade, they only scored one touchdown in two years.
“We’ve managed to get good football players from there.”
Although suffering a 35-point loss on Senior Night in the regular season finale is not ideal, Inola (6-4, 4-3) already secured its fourth playoff berth of the decade with a win over Vinita last week.
As the fourth seed, the Longhorns must travel to undefeated No. 2 Lincoln Christian, the District 3A-3 champion, for the first round of the playoffs.
It will be a rematch of the Week Zero contest in which the Bulldogs scored 44 first-quarter points on the way to a 51-19 victory on Aug. 30.
Although Williams would’ve preferred a better draw, he said he is just happy to be one of the final 16 teams left standing in Class 3A.
“They are what they are, but somebody was gonna have to play them from our district,” Williams said of Lincoln Christian. “We’re working toward getting our program to where rather than it coming down to Week 8, 9 and 10 and playing to get in, we’d like to feel secure where we are and start playing for positioning. It takes time; that doesn’t happen overnight.
“The kids here, the parents here and the administration here are the right mixture of people for that to happen, so we just have to stay the course and keep working hard.”