War­ford’s back, OBU wins opener

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS - ZACH PARKER

ARKADEL­PHIA — Oua­chita Bap­tist sput­tered in the sec­ond half of Wed­nes­day’s season opener against North­west­ern Ok­la­homa State but made plays when they were most needed.

Drew Har­ris rum­bled for a three-yard touch­down to stretch OBU’s lead to 31-21 with 6:19 to play.

The Rangers an­swered back with a nine-yard touch­down pass from Isiah Weed to DaShawn Gor­don to pull within 31-28 with less than three min­utes in the game.

North­west­ern had a chance to drive for a game-ty­ing field goal in the fi­nal min­utes, but the Tiger de­fense stood strong, sack­ing Weed on the fi­nal play of the game to seal the 31-28 win at Cliff Har­ris Sta­dium.

“They’ve got a good foot­ball team; they’ll win a lot of games at North­west­ern and they fight us hard ev­ery year,” OBU coach Todd Knight said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys and a lot of play­mak­ers on of­fense. We didn’t take care of the ball and we gave up a few big plays on de­fense; if we can shore up those things, I think we can have a good foot­ball team.”

OBU marched into North­west­ern ter­ri­tory on its open­ing pos­ses­sion, but came away empty-handed after a fum­ble by quar­ter­back Austin War­ford.

An­thony Cota broke loose for a 31-yard touch­down run on the en­su­ing drive to give the Rangers an early 7-0 lead. Be­hind 25 yards from Shun’cee Thomas and 14 from War­ford, the Tigers an­swered on their next pos­ses­sion, Thomas run­ning the last seven years.

Tak­ing over for an in­jured Kris Oliver early in the game, Thomas fin­ished with a team-high 124 yards on 25 car­ries, scor­ing two touch­downs.

“Shun knows; last year he came out in the mid­dle of the season and went from the scout team to our lead­ing rusher,” said Knight. “He’s a vet­eran now. He rushed for over

400 yards last year and he knows what the ex­pec­ta­tions are.”

Touch­down runs from Barry Ben­nett and Thomas stretched OBU’s lead to 21-7 mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter, but North­west­ern re­fused to back down.

Weed con­nected with Gavin Garner for a 22-yard score to pull the Rangers within 21-14. A 30-yard field goal by Cole Ant­ley gave the Tigers a 24-14 lead at the break.

De­spite forc­ing two turnovers in the third quar­ter, OBU failed to add to its lead and the score re­mained 24-14 en­ter­ing the fi­nal pe­riod. Zach Miller had an in­ter­cep­tion in the red zone for the Tigers and North­west­ern’s Doc Har­vey muffed a punt in­side the

10-yard line, but Ant­ley missed wide right on a 29-yard field goal late in the third.

“They did some good things,” Knight said of his team’s de­fense. “Hon­estly, I felt like they played re­ally good at times and I’m ex­cited about it. Last year we had a little trou­ble stop­ping those guys.”

War­ford com­pleted four of seven pass at­tempts in the fourth quar­ter, set­ting up Har­ris for the go-ahead rush­ing touch­down. Mak­ing his first start since a mid­sea­son in­jury last year, War­ford com­pleted 14 of 21 passes for 200 yards, adding 93 yards rush­ing on

17 car­ries.

“I’m happy for Austin; he went out in game four or five with a foot frac­ture last year and was able to

come back tonight,” said Knight. “I’m ex­cited for him. We have a lot of trust in our quar­ter­backs. They’ve taken us through some bat­tles.”

Weed com­pleted 19 of 27 passes for 178 yards with two touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion. Gor­don fin­ished with 93 yards on 10 catches for North­west­ern.

La’Dar­ius McEl­roy paced the Tigers with 53 yards re­ceiv­ing while reign­ing GAC Fresh­man of the Year Al­lie Free­man hauled in three passes for 49 yards.

After win­ning its sev­enth straight season opener, OBU trav­els to South­west­ern Ok­la­homa State on Sept. 9.

“If you look at the play­ers and coaches man­ual, our num­ber-one phys­i­cal goal is to win the first game,” Knight said. “Noth­ing else matters un­til you win that first game. They got that first goal done so now we can move on and start work­ing on those other goals.”

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