By Chuck Reherman
The last time Yukon’s football team was 4-0, not a single player on the team had been born.
The Millers broke that 20-year drought Thursday night, grinding out a 14-7 win over Norman in the District 6A-1 opener at Miller Stadium.
The last time the Millers started the season off with a 4-0 record was in 1998. That Miller team won its first five games before seeing that streak snapped. This Miller team looks to match and even surpass that mark.
The Millers did have their toughest challenge against an improved Norman team, but YHS used a ball control offense that saw both scoring drives go 15 or more plays of 70-plus yards. The ball control style of limited Norman to only three offensive possessions in each half.
“It was a great team victory tonight and it feels a lot better being 4-0 than 3-1,” YHS head coach Jeremy Reed said. “I’m sure 99 percent of the people would say what was a struggle and that was ugly. Believe it or not, that was our game plan going in. We thought we knew exactly how they were going to play us like they did last year and that we would have to be very patient. We knew we were going to have to use a lot of the short side of the field.
“Obviously we would have liked to have scored more,” he added. “But we had a hunch that was the kind of game it was going to be and we are proud of our kids for continually executing and getting some very, very tough third down conversions.
“I expected Norman to be as tough as they were. I said all week that this team scared me to death. They had some pieces that worried me and it was a game that I expected.”
And, the Millers worked that game plan well, especially in the second half with the score tied.
Norman came out in the second half and put together a drive that tied the game on a Cade Horton 38-yard touchdown pass to Jonah Paden at the 9:50 mark of the third quarter, 7-7.
Norman would not see the ball again until the fourth quarter.
The Millers put together a methodical 19 play, 73-yard drive that ran out the remaining time in the third quarter.
The drive took 9:53 total and was capped by a one-yard quarterback sneak by Jackson Young. None of the plays in the drive were more than seven yards and YHS converted four third down plays and gave the Millers the 14-7 lead.
A back Noah Davis carried the ball on 10 of those 19 plays for 31 yards and Isaiah Butler rushed three times for 15 yards.
“Noah is a big piece of what we do because of his reliability and consistency, Reed said. “He does things right in practice and that is why he gets the position he gets and why he ultimately won the job last year. He came in as the third guy his junior year and took the job because of doing things right. We told them going in that it was going to be a grind tonight,” he added. “It was and I’m glad we came out on top.”
“We made some halftime adjustments and that drive was tough and was long,” Young said. “We preached discipline and ball security and without that we didn’t have the drive. We got great pushes on third down to keep the drive alive.
“Norman has a good offense and by us keeping the ball was huge. They only had three possessions each half because of our offense.”
Norman did have a chance to tie the game, driving to the Yukon five-yard line on their next possession. But, the Miller defense did not give up a yard on three plays inside the 10-yard line. The Tigers went for a field goal to cut into the lead with 8:04 remaining. Norman kicker Grady Wade missed a 22-yard field goal to the left.
The Miller offense worked nearly five minutes off the clock before giving up the ball on a punt with 3:59 remaining.
Norman had one more chance and reached the Miller 45-yard line before the defense forced an incomplete pass on fourth down and regained possession with 53 seconds remaining.
“I thought out defense did a phenomenal job all night long of limiting those guys,” Reed said. “We told them all along that Norman would get some plays, their quarterback is a good football player and they have a lot of good players. Great job of fighting and not giving in to some things they do, because they do some good stuff schematically does.”
“We came off a bad week last time out and we had a really good week of practice and that helped us in this game,” defensive end Owen Olsen said. “The offense did a great job of keeping the ball and giving the defense a chance to get their breath.”
The Millers started their first scoring drive on their third possession of the night and marched 80 yards in 15 plays and took nearly eight minutes before Young completed his only pass of the night, a 14-yard strike to Colton Dekinder.
YHS kept the ball on the ground the first 14 plays of the drive using a mixture of running from Davis, Antonio Washington and Isaiah Butler.
“That was part of the plan, you don’t know how it was going to pan out, but that was part of it, keeping them off the field,” Reed said. “I just knew we would be limited on making a bunch of big plays based on how the way Norman was going to try and defend us.
“The bye week came at a great time and we were able to get our players rested,” he said. “We did have very short practice time this week compared to a normal week (the game was moved up a day because of impending weather coming in). but our kids are in tune to what we are doing and are very mature for a team that has not experienced success in the past. It is a good sign when you can do that as a team because it takes a lot of discipline and that is one area that I feel we have gotten better at.”
The Millers finished the game with 251 yards of offense, 237 on the ground. Davis had 58 yards on 16 carries, Butler ran for 46 yards on 10 carries and Landon Donoho 39 yards on 13 carries. The Millers did put the ball on the ground twice in the first half, recovered both, but did not have a fumble in the second half and did not turn the ball over.
“That was huge to not turn the ball over,” Reed said. “That is every game for us, but especially when it was a one possession game like that. Early in the game there were a couple on the ground and that was scary, but we figured out why and what and got away from doing some of that stuff.”
The Millers will take on another 4-0 team when YHS plays its first road game of the season. Yukon travels to Edmond Santa Fe to play the 4-0 Wolves at 7 p.m. Santa Fe beat Edmond Memorial 42-7 Thursday night.
By Chuck Reherman