Duncan: Defense rule the day in 78th Oil Bowl

By Zach Duncan
June 14, 2015

If you wanted offensive fireworks Saturday night a Memorial Stadium, then the 78th annual Oil Bowl wasn’t for you.

If you were hoping to watch guys like Hirschi graduate Cedric Battle juke defenders out of their pads, then you left feeling pretty bummed.

But if you’re a connoisseur of lights-out defenses, then the East Texas’s 7-3 victory over West Texas was all you could have asked for.

All-star games at this level are notorious for being slow-developing on offensive because defenses have less to cram in such a short week of preparation.

This Oil Bowl took it to another level, though.  Anytime there are more punts (14), than points (10), that’s hard for offensive aficionados to stomach.

Battle, who shattered several city rushing records this season, finished with negative-7 yards on fur carries.  He wasn’t alone as West Texas gained 2 rushing yards on 28 carries and 95 total yards, almost half of which came on one snap.

That East Texas dominated defensively was no surprise to anyone looking at its roster beforehand.  Guys like Defensive MVP Dee Spencer (Mesqite Poteet), DeSota’s Carrington Nelson and West Mesquite’s Charlie Franklin could have pitched tents in the West Texas backfield and played up to their big-school abilities.

But the most impressive aspect was the West Texas defense, which didn’t have as many kids from larger schools  but played just as large.

Wichita Falls High School’s Quentin Sims led the squad with nine tackles, while Joe Randall, a Class 2A kid from nearby Alvord, stepped up with eight stops.

“We only had four days to work, but I think in those four days, we all meshed pretty well,” said Randall after his first game playing middle linebacker.  “We all knew we had each other’s back.  If you were going on a blitz, you know the person would have your back.”

West Texas pitched a shutout for the first 43 minutes, turning East Texas aside numerous times on potential go-ahead scoring drives.

Before halftime, a holding penalty helped lead to a missed 32-yard East Texas field goal, preserving the shutout.

Late in the third quarter, East Texas’ Jaylon Smith was stuffed on fourth-and-2 from the West Texas 38.  After MSU signee Miles McBride of DeSoto picked off a pass at the West Texas 41-yard line, Rockwall’s Dante Thomas responded with two sacks to force a punt.

Vernon’s Zack McMahen and Old High’s L.J. Dabbs each had five tackles, while Seminole’s Sabruan Smith had a timely interception.  The contributions came from everywhere.

“I think it’s that whole West Texas mentality,” West Texas head coach Danny Russell said.  “We’re very workmanlike.  We might be overmatched, but I’m telling you, our kids fought and they fought hard.”

As the game drug on — and it did for stretches as three-and-outs seemed destined to happen — West Texas coach Joe Cluley felt adding one more score to its 3-0 lead would be enough.  But he also knew one quality East Texas drive would result in a loss.

“We all saw the cats they had on the other side.  We played hard and played and played.” Cluley said.  “They brought the big running back (Smith) in and we ended up losing two nose guards.  They kind of wore us down.

“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of kids, I really couldn’t.  We’ve said all week it’s some of the best  high school kids that I’ve ever been around.  They did exactly what was asked every single play and played their butts off.”

West Texas was a little unlucky Saturday night in that it looked like Burkburnett’s Marquis Askew scored on a run that was marked down at the 1-yard line, eventually leading to only a short field goal.

West Texas was also a little overmatched on the offensive side of the ball, converting only one third down on 13 opportunities.

But they certainly weren’t outplayed on defense.

“I’ve never been a part of an all-star game, but if that’s what they are all like, you can sign me up for all of them,” Cluley said with a smile afterward.

Remember, Cluley is a defensive guy.  Saturday night’s game must have felt like true bliss.