CHILDRESS – Maybe it’s hard to say a program has an identity after less than two full seasons, so let’s agree that we all have to call the West Plains Wolves one thing: Winners.
That’s what everybody who saw them Friday night against Graham in the Class 4A Division II area round of the playoffs at Fair Park Stadium had to conclude. West Plains broke open a close game at halftime with 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to cruise to a 35-17 victory and into the third round of the playoffs.
It’s long past time to stop treating the Wolves (11-1) as some kind of new-school novelty and acknowledge their very real accomplishments. They’ve now won 11 straight games (after losing their season opener to Bushland, still alive in the playoffs) and beat Graham (10-2), an established program which entered the game with an equal record.
For the first time this season, the Wolves will face an opponent with a better record in next week’s regional round, unbeaten Monahans (12-0). It will be the first time in the school’s brief history the Wolves will be preparing to play a game after Thanksgiving.
That shows how far they’ve advanced from their maiden season, when their season ended in the area round against Wichita Falls Hirschi. This year, they made sure it continued on the same field where it ended last year.
“I can’t really put it into words,” West Plains coach Adam Cummings said. “I’m still kind of taken aback by it. We’re so proud of our kids, our coaching staff and our school. We’ve just got a lot of good people involved in this process and it’s very humbling.”
The first half lived up to the expectations of the two teams’ records. Defenses took over early before both offenses broke through with some big plays, as West Plains led 14-10 at halftime.
After exchanging punts with five three-and-outs, West Plains had the first offensive first down of the game, as Reid Macon hit King Tallant on a 68-yard pass to put the ball at Graham’s 7-yard line. Jordi Hernandez ran for the first of his three touchdowns on a 6-yard run for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Hernandez had 78 yards on 19 carries and has had much bigger games statistically, but none more important.
“It feels amazing,” Hernandez said. “We went out second round last year, and we prayed to end that and it worked. We came out and executed the way we wanted to and the team with better character and discipline won the game. We knew what we were going to get into.”
Graham answered early in the second quarter with a 21-yard scoring pass from Ty Thompson to Peyton Kinman to tie it 7-7. The Wolves then put together a solid drive of their own, capped by an 18-yard scoring run by Hernandez to make it 14-7.
The Steers threatened to tie the game at halftime before their drive broke down at the West Plains 10. Ozzy Trejo kicked a 27-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the half to make it 14-10.
West Plains showed an unusual lack of discipline in the first half by allowing Graham to pick up three first downs via penalty. That didn’t pop up after halftime.
“We talked at halftime about how we needed to elevate our game and play like a championship team,” Cummings said. “It was all about us. It was penalties and busted assignments. There really weren’t a whole lot of adjustments to be made. We had to not shoot ourselves in the foot and execute.”
If there was a turning point in the second half, it came after Graham took the second half kickoff and was forced to punt. The Wolves got a piece of Jace Gill’s kick, and Crockett Henry picked up the ball at Graham’s 23 and took it to the 3, where Tallant carried it in on the next play for a 21-10 lead.
On Graham’s next possession, the Wolves came up with a big play when they forced a fumble by Rylan Monsey and took over at Graham’s 43.
“We pulled a linebacker out and put another safety in because we wanted to control the box with four people and that’s what we did tonight,” said West Plains senior defensive lineman Jarrett Diggs, who was a presence in Graham’s backfield all night. “That’s what we can handle. We came in second week of two-a-days and we had these little pictures of a state ring with a wolf on it.”
Hernandez scored his final touchdown of the night on an 18-yard run on the next possession to make it 28-10 and pretty much deflate the Steers. Later in the quarter, Henry scored on a 3-yard run to effectively end it.
In the other Class 4A Division II area round game, Glen Rose defeated Perryton 70-13. The Rangers end the year at 4-8.