Warford’s back, OBU wins opener
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
“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.”