November 27, 2012

Lions head to semifinals after shutout home win

Aaron Colen, Sports Editor,
The Express-Star

BLANCHARD, Okla. — After a close call in the first round of the 3A state football playoffs, the Blanchard Lions haven’t faced much resistance the last two weeks, beating Hilldale in a shutout Friday night at home in the quarterfinals.

The Lions put themselves one game away from a berth in the state championship game with a 42-0 win over the Hornets, improving to 11-1 this season.

Hilldale got the ball to start the game, but after two unsuccessful runs, quarterback Chandler Puckett threw an interception to Blanchard’s Kyle Self.

Blanchard wasted no time scoring after the turnover. Blanchard quarterback Brock Lamle threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Self on the first play of the drive, putting the Lions up 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.

Later in the first quarter, Puckett threw another interception, this one picked off by Jalan Daniels, who returned it to Hilldale’s 15 yard line. Running back Braden Stringer eventually scored on a three-yard touchdown run with 2:41 left in the first quarter, and Blanchard led 14-0.

The Lions’ defense put the offense in position for its early lead with the two interceptions, and they didn’t allow a single first down until the third quarter.

“Our defense has really played well the last couple of weeks,” head coach Jeff Craig said. “We’re probably about as healthy as we’ve been since mid-season, so now is a good time to hit our stride. Our guys have just really honed in on what the other team does. Our film study has been ratcheted up, our practice has been ratcheted up, our kids’ attention has been ratcheted up, and we’re just paying attention to every little detail they can pick off of our opponents and applying that to game night.”

Tanner Foster had Blanchard’s third interception at the end of the first half. Another defensive difference-maker was defensive lineman Gage Wimer.

Wimer had one solo tackle, nine assisted tackles, three sacks for -22 yards, and one forced fumble.

In the second quarter, Blanchard used a little bit of trickery for their third touchdown of the game, when Foster, a wide receiver, threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Self, putting Blanchard up 21-0.

The Lions had some turnovers in the second quarter. Miles Jackson intercepted a Lamle pass with Blanchard threatening at the Hilldale 27 yard line, and Justin Sanders recovered a fumble that was caused on a quarterback scramble, but Hilldale wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnovers.

It was more of the same in the second half, with Blanchard continuing to extend its lead. The Lions scored on a 12-yard pass to Foster from Lamle with 9:50 left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Lamle scored on a 13-yard run and backup running back Stephan Davis broke a 63-yard touchdown run.

Lamle finished the game 16 for 22 passing for 233 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran the ball eight times for 25 yards and one touchdown.

Zach Hill dominated the game from the receiver position, taking advantage of his size and speed and creating matchup problems for Hilldale’s secondary. Hill had 107 yards on five catches and 20 yards on three rushing attempts.

“It just puts people in a bind,” Craig said of Hill. "They have to decide what they’re going to do. Are you going to take an extra guy out to cover him? Then we have other guys who are capable of making plays, and those guys came through for us tonight. Zach got them early.”

With his big fourth quarter touchdown run, Davis was Blanchard’s leading rusher in the game with 72 yards on five carries. Braden Stringer ran for 53 yards on 11 carries. Both backs had one touchdown.

Craig said it was a benefit to his team to play at home, after having to travel more than two hours to play each of the first two playoff games.

“It’s been such a relief to get back to the house and play in front of our fans,” Craig said. “Our fans have been tremendous, traveling with us, going on the road a lot, and to come home and get one here, that was kind of the icing on the cake of the Tuttle loss, as bad a loss as it was, we knew if we could take care of rounds one and two, we’d get one at home, and the big, important game would be at the house, and that kind of gave us inspiration to play well.”

Now in the semifinals, Blanchard will play a familiar opponent: District 3A-1 rival Jones. The Lions beat Jones in one of their closest games of the year, a 28-25 win on Oct. 12.

Jones went on to win the district championship after beating Tuttle, and after Tuttle beat Blanchard in the season finale.

“They’ll be looking to redeem themselves a little bit on that,” Craig said about the two teams’ previous matchup. “We talked about it as we walked off the field, ‘we’ll probably see you guys again in the playoffs’ and they’ve got an excellent football team. We don’t expect anything but a great football game that night.”

Blanchard and Jones are scheduled to play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 at Putnam City High School.