Despite all the cancellations left in its wake, not even the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic could keep the Oklahoma high school football season from flying by like so many years in the past.
It was a year unlike any other, and hopefully 2021 will bring us some sense of normalcy. Although eight months seems like a long time from now, there are plenty of highlights to reminisce about as we trepidly approach the New Year.
Here is a look back at the season through my eyes. Selections were based on events I witnessed firsthand unless otherwise stated.
MOST IMPRESSIVE INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Noah Smallwood vs. Glenpool — “You’re Unbelievable” by EMF blared throughout Lantow Field after Noah Smallwood rushed for a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and it was a fitting tune considering the quarterback accounted for 312 total yards and six touchdowns.
He rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns on 33 carries while also completing 7 of 12 passes for 100 yards and another score. He snagged two interceptions on defense as well.
Unfortunately, that was the last time we got to see Smallwood play in 2020.
The junior suffered an ACL tear in his left leg late in the fourth quarter of Claremore’s 49-28 win, ending his season early.
Honorable Mention: DeShawn Kinnard vs. Oologah — After managing only 60 yards rushing in the opening two quarters, DeShawn Kinnard erupted in the second half to finish with 276 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries — a whopping 13.8 yards per carry.
He scored on runs of 8, 82 and 78 yards but could’ve had even more. If not for a pair of untimely holding penalties in the middle quarters, he would’ve had a second 82-yard touchdown run in addition to a 45-yard score. Those runs could've propelled him over the 400-yard mark.
That performance was the perfect way for Kinnard to honor his parents, who met at the Battle of Rogers County between Claremore and Oologah about 20 years earlier.
Honorable Mention: Caden Parnell vs. Berryhill — Caden Parnell did a little bit of everything in helping Verdigris claim a victory over Berryhill on Oct. 2, rushing for 91 yards on 13 carries and catching three passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while also snagging an interception on defense and completing a 7-yard pass on a fake punt for a first down.
Honorable Mention: Reese Roller vs. Berryhill — In the same game, Reese Roller tallied five sacks on Berryhill quarterback Jake Miller for a cumulative loss of 34 yards. He had four hurries as well.
BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Blake Bedsworth (QB, Sequoyah) — Blake Bedsworth was a key component to Sequoyah’s turnaround season. The senior accounted for 928 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on 127 carries while completing 15 of 29 passes for 172 yards.
All that came after not playing football in 2018 and 2019. In a 38-0 victory over Haskell that ended a 22-game losing streak, Bedsworth averaged 8.9 yards per carry on the way to a 125-yard rushing performance.
Honorable Mention: Alec James (RB, Verdigris) — The senior running back emerged as the Cardinals’ main rushing option in the season opener against Sperry, and that is where he remained. Alec James finished with 948 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 122 carries, surpassing the century mark on four occasions. He also caught nine passes for 107 yards and a score.
His best game came against Central on Oct. 15 when he broke loose for 229 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries.
Honorable Mention: Reese Roller (LB, Verdigris) — According to MaxPreps, sophomore Reese Roller finished with the sixth-most sacks in the nation this year, registering 22 in 10 games. Everyone above him on the list played at least 11 games.
In addition to the sacks, Roller managed 64 tackles, including 34 for loss. He grabbed an interception as well and forced three fumbles, recovering one.
Roller had 58 tackles and six sacks entering the season.
Holland Hall defeating Verdigris 52-7 — This was a matchup between the No. 2 and No. 5 teams in Class 3A and was easily the state’s Game of the Week. However, Holland Hall took control early and never relented, scoring on its first eight possessions to build a 52-0 lead with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Coming into this game, Verdigris had outscored opponents by an average of 47.1-12.6.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Claremore vs. Oologah — Whether it was because of Kinnard’s 276 yards and three touchdowns or Smallwood’s three interceptions, this game was thrilling from start to finish.
Oologah jumped ahead 14-0 early, but Claremore outscored the Mustangs 28-6 the rest of the way to claim the victory in the first meeting between the programs since 2013.
Blake Salt threw for 369 yards on 18-of-29 passing in a losing effort, tossing touchdown passes of 90 and 41 yards to Devin Ankerich, who finished with 191 yards receiving on seven catches.
In addition to the three picks, Smallwood rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, scoring from 46 yards out to give the Zebras their first score with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
WISH I COULD’VE BEEN THERE
Sequoyah vs. Rejoice Christian — Sequoyah overcame a 14-point second-half deficit to topple Rejoice Christian 56-49 on Oct. 9. I love high-scoring shootouts, so covering such a contest would’ve been quite fulfilling.
Led by Logan Hattaway and Bedsworth, Sequoyah rushed for 405 yards in the win. Hattaway logged 181 yards and touchdown runs of 1, 42, 30 and 67 yards on only 10 carries, and Bedsworth added 101 yards on 17 attempts.
To be honest, the fear of this game going to overtime kept me from covering it. I knew it would be a close game, and with a print deadline of 10:40 p.m. on Friday nights, I couldn’t risk a late final.
Luckily, correspondent Duane DaPron was there to document what was probably the Game of the Year in Rogers County.
Honorable Mention: Claremore vs. Pryor — Claremore always seems to get the best of Pryor, but 2020 was a different story.
The Tigers rallied in the final minutes of regulation and again in overtime, winning 22-21 on a 2-point conversion after backup quarterback Bret Elza threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gore. It was Pryor’s first victory over the Zebras since 2014.
It doesn’t get much better than defeating a rival in an overtime classic.