PAWHUSKA – The blood pressure for Pawnee fans might never be the same.
After a game where the two halves seemed like parallel universes to each other, the Black Bears made just enough plays in the end to beat Pawhuska 46-40 in a raucous road game Friday night.
The victory secured the first district championship and undefeated regular season for Pawnee since 2006. As the No. 1 seed now in the district, Pawnee will host Colcord next Friday in the first round of the playoffs.
At one point against the Huskies, the Black Bears (10-0 overall; 7-0 District A-5) led by as much as 29 in the second half, but Pawhuska cut it down to a one-score game two times down the stretch.
Pawnee coach Russell Cook said the matchup was one of the craziest games he has ever coached in.
“We went back and forth the entire game,” Cook said. “I thought our kids played well, especially in the first half. In the second half, Pawhuska got some help from coaches and had some good athletes and kids so they came out in the second half and took it to us, but I thought our kids responded well each and every time.”
Pawnee running backs Chad and Trevor Mitchell combined for 381 yards and five touchdowns, as the two broke through the Pawhuska defense all through the night.
After an early Pawhuska score on its opening drive, Pawnee answered back with Trevor Mitchell’s first of three touchdowns with a five-yard score.
The game had the looks of a back-and-forth affair, but that story had to wait until later. After tying the game at six with four minutes left in the first quarter, Pawnee took over the rest of the half.
Trevor Mitchell outraced the Husky defense 65 yards to give the Black Bears a 12-6 lead to end the first quarter.
Pawhuska (9-1; 6-1) got the ball back, but a few plays later, quarterback Bryce Drummond tossed an interception to Trevor Mitchell, setting Pawnee up with good field position.
The Pawnee defense had Drummond rattled in the first half, something that the Black Bears took advantage of.
“We weren’t scared at all (of Drummond),” Trevor Mitchell said. “We contained him last year and came in here and dominated, and that was the go-to plan.”
After the interception, Wylee Craig punched in a three-yard score. On the ensuing kickoff, Pawhuska’s Cade McNeil fumbled the ball away, giving the Black Bears the ball back in prime position.
Craig once again scored off of the turnover, this time on a one-yard plunge.
Just like that, Pawnee led the Huskies 28-6 at the half, and all was good for the red and black.
Trevor Mitchell continued the momentum out of the locker room with 45-yard rushing score to open the half, extending the Black Bear lead to 29.
The district clash, though, was far from over.
Pawhuska’s defense locked up, and the highly-touted offense woke up. The Huskies answered back on the next two drives with two touchdowns, each being a 38-yard pass from Drummond to Cade McNeil.
The Pawnee lead was just 34-20 heading into the fourth quarter, and the home team possessed the momentum.
With Pawnee’s defense surrendering big plays to Drummond and the Pawhuska offense through the air, the Black Bears adjusted their defense to prevent the pass. The Huskies picked up on the switch, and Drummond started using his legs. The senior scored on a seven-yard run with 11 minutes left to make it a one-score game.
From there, Chad Mitchell and Drummond traded scores on the next two drives to end up again at a one-score separation, with the Black Bears leading 40-32 with just over seven minutes left.
Pawnee was needing for any way to separate itself and hold on, and the Black Bears looked no further than senior Chad Mitchell. With the trust put in him, he made the play that defined the Pawnee victory.
With just over three minutes left, Chad Mitchell got the handoff from quarterback Blake Skidgel and took off up the middle. He shot straight through the Pawhuska offense and galloped to a 43-yard touchdown, extending Pawnee’s lead back out to 14.
“I just wanted to get in the end zone,” Chad Mitchell said. “I wanted to get the score up and keep the clock moving. I wanted that ‘W’ and that district title.”
Pawhuska made one last stand, as Drummond scored his sixth touchdown of the game with just over two minutes left to cut the deficit back down.
The Black Bears rushing attack, though, proved to be too much. With big carries late from Skidgel, Pawnee ran out the clock and gained its biggest program victory in over a decade.
After shaking hands and meeting with his coaches, Chad Mitchell darted to the away stands, hyping up the packed crowd. He said he knew how much the district championship victory meant.
“It’s something this town hasn’t had in a long time,” Chad Mitchell said. “I’m so proud. All of this hard work we went through has finally paid off.”
The victory was one that Black Bear players and fans won’t soon forget, even if it came in the up-and-down form that it did.
Cook said his team stuck true to itself, despite Pawhuska testing its strength late.
“These kids made a goal for themselves to be district champions,” Cook said. “You have to give it to them. They went out and achieved many of the goals they’ve set so far.”