By Chuck Reherman
ALVA – Southwest Covenant headed into the class C state semifinals facing the No. 1 ranked team in the state.
The Patriots, though, were not going to be “Buffaloed” by the task at hand.
No. 3 ranked Southwest Covenant’s defense stepped up in the second half and the Patriots pulled away from Buffalo to earn a spot in the state championship game, 42-20, Friday night at Ranger Field on the campus of Northwestern State University in Alva.
The Patriots forced a pair of second half turnovers and held the high scoring Bison to only one second half score in posting the win and sending Buffalo home with their first loss of the season.
SWCS will now play No. 2 ranked and two-time defending state champion Tipton in the finals Friday at Southwestern State University. Tipton beat Pond Creek-Hunter, 50-28, to reach the finals.
The Patriots did get off to a fast start in the game, scoring on a pair of big pass plays to open a 14-0 lead. But Buffalo did come back to close the lead to 14-12. Buffalo, after giving up a late first half touchdown and one in the third quarter, made it a 28-20 game before the Patriot defense put the halt on the Bison offense and helped put the game away.
“It is an amazing feeling reaching the state finals, I am at a loss for words, the boys played well,” SWCS head coach Trey Cloud said. “We played some plays in the second half, we had some open stuff. We couldn’t run the ball to save our lives, but the boys fought hard.
“It was all about making plays down the field and Ben (Webb) settled down and did a lot better,” he added. “The defense stepped up and that was huge. We got some big turnovers in the second half and that was the difference in the game.”
Buffalo, who lost their best runningback (Thad Wilkinson) to a broken ankle the week before in a win over Medford, came out running the ball mainly behind quarterback Rollin Richard. The Bison did rush for 305 yards, but only had 78 in the second half. The Patriots forced two of the three Bison turnovers in the second half.
“We knew they would come out running the ball and we had to stop the run, that was the key,” Cloud said. “We knew if we could stop the run, we could take the game away from them. With their style of play, it would be really hard for them to come back.
“Our goal was to get off to a quick start,” he said. “We knew it would be a tight game and this would be the toughest team we had played to date. Things did get a little nervous when they came back and tied the game, but we told the players, there were going to be low points and high points in a game. You have to be able to overcome the low points and make the adjustments. We told them to not ever get too up or too down, and we settled in during that second half and did what we needed to do to win the game.”
The Patriots relied on their passing game most of the night. Webb completed 15 of 28 passes for 306 yards and six touchdowns. SWCS had only 98 yards rushing on the night.
“Ben played well once he settled down and we needed him to throw the ball well,” Cloud said. “We knew going in that we would have a tougher time running the ball because they are so much bigger than we were on the front line. We knew we needed to hit the edges and the corners and to have success running the ball.”
The Patriots put together a drive late in the first half to break a 14-14 tie and take the lead for good. Webb connected on a shuttle pass to Tyler Kelly from three-yards out to break the tie and gave SWCS a 21-14 lead with two seconds remaining in the first half.
The drive started after the defense stopped Buffalo at the SWCS 31-yard line on a fourth down play with 34 seconds left in the half. Webb connected on a 25-yard pass to Trevor Kelly, a 16-yard strike to Will Haas and a 26-yard pass to Cole Shaw to the three-yard line. Trevor Kelly scored on the next play.
Webb connected on a 13-yard scoring pass to Shaw at the 4:26 mark of the third quarter to open a 28-14 lead. Webb and Shaw and teamed up on a 20-yard pass to open the drive to set up the score.
Buffalo did come back to make it a 28-20 game on a three-yard scoring run by Rollin with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
An Andrew Hickman fumble recovery of a Richard fumble set up the Patriots’ fifth touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Hickman’s fumble recovery gave the Patriots the ball at the Bison 49.
Two plays later, Webb connected on a 48-yard scoring pass to Will Haas and a 35-20 lead with 10:01 remaining.
The Patriots final score came with 1:29 left in the game on a 19-yard Webb to Trevor Kelly touchdown pass.
“It’s surreal to get to play in the state championship game,” Webb said. “That was a naib goal and now that it is about to happen it is kind of crazy. We are all more than excited and ready to play for a chance to get a ring. We know Tipton is tough and we have never beaten them and another goal of ours was to get a shot at them.
“Our main goal was to match their physicality,” Webb said. “We did that the first drive, we slowed down and we picked it back up towards the end and knew that defense was going to end the game. We knew our offense could score, we kinda of score when we want and coach Cloud does a great job of calling the plays. We have all the playmakers to get us on the board.
“We knew there would be ups and downs in the game and we just had to respond right every single time. We were never got down or thought we would give up at any time. Our line is not the biggest, but they are definitely tough. We knew Buffalo would be tough, they were the best line we have played all year and we stepped up to the challenge.”
The Patriots struck quickly in the game as Webb connected with Tyler Kelly on a 53-yard touchdown pass on the first play of their opening drive. Webb passed to Kelly over the middle and he used his speed to outrun the defense to the end zone, taking a 7-0 lead 1:42 into the game.
Buffalo did come back and scored on a one-yard Richard scoring run. Richard’s pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete to keep the game 7-6 with 7:21 left in the opening quarter.
SWCS scored on their next possession, although, it appeared the offense was in trouble. A six-yard loss on first down and a bad snap for a 14-yard loss had the Patriots facing a third and 30 situation.
But Webb calmly connected on a pass to Haas, who turned on the jets and finished the 75-yard touchdown pass play running the final 55 yards. The score gave SWCS a 14-6 lead with 6:11 left in the opening quarter.
Buffalo scored on a 13-yard Richard to Colton Eskew touchdown pass to make it a 14-12 game. Richard’s pass again on the conversion fell incomplete with 6:44 left in the first half.
Haas finished the night catching six passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Trevor Kelly caught three passes for 73 yards and one score, Shaw caught three for 64 yards and one touchdown and Tyler Kelly caught two passes for 60 yards and two scores. Tyler Kelly has rushed for 60 yards on seven carries.
“It is an amazing feeling to get a chance to play in the finals.” Trevor Kelly said. “Buffalo is a really good team, they were very physical and we had to play our best game. But it was a fun game and enjoyable. Everyone stepped up beyond expectations and we really grew as a team and as men.
“Our defense had to step up a lot in the second half and that is what we did,” he added. “We just had to make the stops and stop any of their big plays and drive the ball on offense, which we did.”