When the most established high school in Canyon ISD met the one which had been open less than a month Friday night at Happy State Bank Stadium, the results were rather predictable.
That’s why Canyon’s 27-6 win over West Plains wasn’t particularly surprising by most standards. Unbeaten Canyon (3-0) looked like the far more experienced program than still winless West Plains (0-3) for most of four quarters.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t some hiccups along the way for both teams. It’s just that Canyon was better equipped to deal with them.
The Eagles hurt themselves with five turnovers, but otherwise showed why they’re where they’re at, both in the past and present sense. While Canyon has a lot of tradition for opponents to study, West Plains has none, save for the three games the Wolves have played so far.
“It’s almost like catching somebody early,” second-year Canyon head coach Todd Winfrey said. “The way (the Wolves) have changed and improved every week it was kind of a different team this week. They play hard and are playing pretty physical football, so give them credit.”
The Wolves have hardly shamed themselves the last two weeks in losing 25-20 to Greenwood and making the Eagles work for their win. In the end, though, experience proved valuable.
The two teams played fairly even in a first half littered by turnovers. Canyon overcame the errors more effectively, though, as the Eagles led 20-3 at halftime.
West Plains opted to go for it at its own 43-yard line after getting the ball on the opening kickoff. Running back Jordi Hernandez was stopped a yard short of a first down, and the Eagles took over in prime field position.
They wasted no time in striking. Canyon ran a flea-flicker on the first play, with Derrek Clements finding a wide-open Hunter Wilson for a 43-yard scoring pass and a quick 6-0 lead.
“We’ve been practicing that all week,” Wilson said. “We put it on Monday and it just worked out. I didn’t know I was going to be that open. It just kind of happened. We came out hot and (West Plains) got scared real quick. Their corners and safeties started playing soft and that gave us a chance for the run game to start up.”
That was the first of two scoring passes from Clements to Wilson in the first half, including a 35-yarder which gave the Eagles a 20-3 lead. In between, Clements also scored on a 3-yard run.
Those were the highlights of a wildly mixed night for Clements. He completed 10-of-14 passes for 155 yards, but was also responsible for all five Canyon turnovers, throwing a whopping four interceptions and losing a fumble.
“I’ve got to put us in a better situation offensively, so I take the blame for that,” Winfrey said. “We may make mistakes and not execute right, but the purple standard is to play hard, and I thought we did that all night for four quarters.”
It was an interesting dynamic considering that both Winfrey and West Plains coach Adam Cummings worked together for a decade at Canyon as assistants under Blake Bryant. That meant there weren’t necessarily a whole lot of surprises.
“It was just kind of nerve-wracking because you know how well-prepared (the Eagles) are going to be and how well they execute so you’ve just got to play at a really high level,” Cummings said. “I felt at times our kids did that. I was proud of our kids and how they fought. That’s one of our goals defensively is to force turnovers.”
West Plains freshman quarterback Reid Macon had some good moments, throwing for 203 yards, coming close to matching the 216 by Clements. The Wolves got on the board in historic fashion seven seconds into the second quarter, when Joseph Estrada kicked the first field goal in school history from 28 yards, cutting Canyon’s lead to 13-3. Estrada also kicked a 22-yard field goal in the first two minutes of the second half.
However, Macon threw two interceptions in the first half, including one which Canyon’s Brayden Wagner picked off near the goal line in the final seconds of the half to thwart a West Plains scoring chance.
Macon might have had a better chance if he’d gotten some support from the running game. West Plains ran for only 43 yards and two first downs, both of which came in the second half.