BERRYHILL – A receiver with magic hands and a team that believed overcoming the improbable was no surprise inspired Verdigris to the District 3A-4 championship Friday night at Berryhill Stadium.
The Chiefs entered undefeated in regular season games dating back to 2015, but VHS denied No. 4 Berryhill its fourth-consecutive district title with a 35-21 victory, earning a home date against Idabel in the first round of the 3A playoffs next week.
“The key is that we’re family,’’ said Verdigris coach Travis East, who led his school to only its second district title in history and the first since 2001. “We never gave up. We had to keep playing and our kids did. Our kids knew we had the talent and we played hard. We executed to perfection.’’
Verdigris (8-2, 6-1 District 4A-4) built a 21-7 halftime lead, then watched the Chiefs rally to tie 21-21 in the fourth.
That’s when senior receiver Toby Willis displayed his big-play ability, snagging three balls from quarterback Dylan White in an 80-yard, seven-play scoring drive that put the Cards up for keeps.
White connected with Willis on a 30-yard strike to the Chiefs’ 30 with the 5-foot-9, 150-pounder vacuuming the ball on a diving catch. Three plays later, White sent Willis to the back of the end zone and his leaping, finger-tip reception made it 27-21 with 4:41 left.
“It was a good play call by Dylan and a good throw. I couldn’t have done it without my line,’’ said Willis, who had 10 catches for 99 yards. “We got the energy early (in the game), and we didn’t stop. Our defense didn’t stop either. It was amazing because they hadn’t lost in four years. We didn’t give up all night.’’
White finished completing 16 of 22 passes with two touchdowns, while the VHS defense wrecked the throwing of Berryhill ace quarterback Jake Miller.
Miller hit just 9 of 28 attempts with two interceptions. He completed only 1 of 10 tosses in the second half with half a dozen dropped balls.
“We had this game circled at the beginning of the season because we knew we had to win this one. We really prepared this week,’’ Arkansas State commit Austin said. “This game was just a step for us. Now we’re 0-0, and we’ve got to keep rolling.’’
The Cardinals recovered a Berryhill fumble at the Chiefs’ 31 to setup their clinching touchdown.
Senior Sloan Roller scored his second touchdown on a 17-yard bolt, then ran for two points to give VHS a two-score lead with 2:09 remaining.
Berryhill’s offense was centered around sophomore running back Chase Burke, who gained 156 of his team’s 400 total yards on the ground.
With the Chiefs’ aerial attack faltering, he needed more help, but didn’t get it.
Down 21-7, the home team rallied to come within a touchdown when Burke bulled over from 5 yards out late in the third period.
The Chiefs finally pulled even at 21-21 after Miller found Braden Hendrix on a 72-yard bomb with 6:43 to go, but White and Willis quickly wrestled the momentum away from Berryhill when they teamed up following the kickoff on the electrifying winning drive.