By Zach Duncan
June 18, 2016

They wanted more points.  In fact, the Oil Bowl tweaked some rules before this year’s game to light up the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.

But until the waning minutes of the 79th annual all-star game, defensive stops in the red zone and missed offensive opportunities were the predominant theme.

Maybe the East and West Texas all-stars were waiting for the right moment to finally trade off game-changing plays? It was better late than never.

The final few minutes in East Texas’ 20-14 overtime victory would have been scripted by cliched  Hollywood writers.  It started with what looked like the dagger delivered by Rider’s Darrien Fleeks when he gave the East a 14-6 lean on a 6-yard touchdown run.

Cisco’s Taylor Massey, whose theatrics became all-too-familiar to area 3A schools the past two years, then led a last-second scoring drive that ended with a two-point conversion forcing overtime for only the second time in the game’s illustrious history.

West Texas’ magic appeared to dry up in the extra session at Muenster’s Daniel Bartel picked off Massey.  Then Henrietta’s Cody Fletcher barreled into the end zone from 7 yards out to set off a celebration.

“I thought their all-star quality caliber showed late in the game when plays had to be made,” said West Texas coach Jason Sims of Childress.  “I thought it was a great football game.  It had a little bit of everything, some big special teams plays and a lot of hard hitting.

“Not the points some people would want to see, but it had a lot of excitement to it even though it was only a 20-14 ballgame.”

All-star football contest are almost a dime a dozen these days.  Just last week alone, games were played in Abilene, Lubbock, and Childress.  Now that Oklahoma isn’t involved in the ame anymore, there are even more challenges with keeping it relevant.

But the Oil Bowl focusing on selecting lots of local talent this year looked like a good call.  The home stands were busier than the past couple years and those who stayed to the end were rewarded.

Local players shined everywhere you looked.  Wichita Falls High School’s Rodney Higgins caught a 28-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring in the second quarter, while Seymour’s Hunter Martinez hauled in eight passes for 52 yards.

Windthorst’s Garrett Syrus picked off a second-quarter pass, while Fleeks gained 68 yards, looking fresh as the warm night drug on.

East Texas coach Byron West of Henrietta made some history Saturday night, too.  West was the winning head coach in the first overtime Oil Bowl game five years ago.

Now he can brag about coming out on top in both Oil Bowl overtimes, and making this year more special was the fact that all three of his Bearcats contributed.  Riley Wilson scored on a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter to put the East on top, while Logan Carter caught a 28-yard pass on a fake punt.

But it was perhaps Byron West’s grittiest player from his 2015 state quarterfinalist squad ending the game with a gritty run.

Fletcher’s touchdown was pure toughness as he barreled into the end zone.

“It was a really special night for me watching these guys excel for me one more time,” West said.  “It’s fun, it’s close.  You get to that point and you want to win, but the kids played their hearts out.”

The Oil Bowl tried sprucing things up after last year’s 7-3 outcome.  For most of Saturday night, it looked like single digits would be enough to win again.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.