By Nick Snow
CUSHING, Okla. —
All week, the Cushing High School football team’s biggest concern was stopping Blanchard’s powerful running game.
But it was the Lions’ passing game that ended the Tigers’ season with a 41-33 loss in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs Friday.
“What a lot of people don’t understand was that most of those were read plays,” Cushing coach Barrett Shupe said. “When our guys go out for a pass they handed it (off) and when we came in for a run they threw it. ... We schemed it up all week and our kids fought and battled. We just came up short and ran out of time.”
Junior running back Gage Stallworth racked up 39 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns, but Blanchard quarterback Brock Lamle picked apart the Tigers’ secondary, completing 12 of 24 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
“I don’t exactly know what happened out there (in the first half),” Cushing senior Cole McKnight said. “I don’t know if there was some miscommunication or what, but we rebounded and came back.”
Trailing 29-6 heading into the fourth quarter, Cushing put up a fight in the fourth quarter. With the wind at their back, the Tigers took to the air as McKnight hauled in a pair of touchdown catches during a 27-point quarter. But in the end it was too little, too late for Cushing, which saw its season come to an end in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
“We felt like we had a shot the whole time,” McKnight said. “We never gave up on ourselves. We feel like we’re never out of any game. As coach said, we just ran out of time.”
Cushing (8-3) got off to a slow start, even with the wind at its back.
The 10th-ranked Lions (9-1) struck first when Lamle hit Kyle Self for a 55-yard strike with 5:44 left in the first quarter. After recovering a pooch kick, Lamle hit Tanner Foster with a 28-yard pass for Blanchard’s second score in 30 seconds and giving the Lions a 12-0 lead.
Cushing closed the gap when Stallworth busted through for a 2-yard score, but the Lions were able to extend that lead to 18 by halftime, thanks to a 13-yard run by Braden Stringer and a 19-yard field goal at the end of the half by Blake Barker.
Lamle hit Braden Bush for a 31-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to extend the lead to 22 before Cushing began its comeback on the arm of senior Bingham Hightower and the legs of Stallworth.
But with just more than a minute to play in the game, the Tigers couldn’t wrestle an onside kick away form Blanchard, effectively ending their season.
“I think this loss is different this year,” Shupe said. “We came in expecting to win. We fought for 48 minutes and came up just a bit short. We tried everything. We kicked every onside in the book and we kept going. I’m proud of the kids and the way they battled.”
Cushing’s season may have come to an abrupt end, but Shupe is confident that this will only add fuel to the Tigers’ fire next season.
The Tigers will lose seniors like Hightower and McKnight but with players like Stallworth returning, Shupe not only expects his team to make the playoffs, he expects them to take the next step.
“I’m proud of the boys, the community — everybody,” Shupe said. “We love it here and we’re going to go back to work and see what we can do next year. We want to support them in the winter seasons and then when it’s our turn to work with them, we’re going to go to work and hopefully get better next year.”
“We gave it our all,” McKnight said. “I can’t be more proud of the way we played. We didn’t want to go out like this as a senior, but I can say that I’m proud of the way this team fought to the end.”
With the win, Blanchard advances to face Madill in the second round of the of the playoffs.