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Oakley-Prairie

From left to right, Oakley running back Josh Nyman, offensive lineman Miguel Almaras and wide receiver Caleb Arnell react after Nyman scores a touchdown Friday during the 1A Division I State Semifinal game against Prairie at Holt Arena in Pocatello. Oakley defeated Prairie 26-22.

Despite nearly seven hours of distance between the two high schools, Oakley and Prairie’s football teams feel like they have as much history with one another as they might their conference rivals.

Numerous playoff matchups between the two teams have taken place, particularly in recent years, and the Pirates seemed to have the Hornets’ number in those contests. Prairie defeated Oakley in the 2014 and 2015 quarterfinals and the 2017 semifinals.

When the two squared off in the 1A Division I state semifinals, it was certain to be a battle.

I went into it having never seen Prairie play before and only seeing Oakley play once, its game against Raft River two weeks before, when the Hornets rested their starters for the entire second half. Without too much true knowledge on either team, assuming they were relatively even, I was mostly looking forward to the psychological aspect of it.

Could Oakley get the Prairie monkey off its back? If the opening stages of the game were any indication, the Hornets sure could.

Defense was a key aspect in the entire game, as senior Austin Bedke intercepted Prairie quarterback Spencer Schumacher and returned it 11 yards for a score. Then, a fumble recovery by Oakley led to a 17-yard passing score from junior Chandler Jones to senior Travis Barnard.

Oakley led, 14-0, just three minutes into the second quarter. However, Prairie’s offense soon found a groove, as Schumacher delivered two touchdowns. In between his scores was a 55-yard kick return touchdown from Oakley junior Josh Nyman. A third Schumacher strike gave the Pirates their first lead of the game, 22-20, at halftime.

As was so evident in the first half, the defense would have to come up big for Oakley down the stretch. Holding Prairie scoreless in the third quarter was a start, but the Hornets couldn’t get on the board in that frame either.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Barnard intercepted Schumacher. On the following play, Jones scrambled for a touchdown, giving Oakley a 26-22 lead.

Prairie had three drives following Jones’ score to answer back, but the Hornets found a way to stop the Pirates on each try. Nyman came up with an interception on the first one, before senior Jake Pulsipher came up big on the following two.

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Both times, Prairie had a fourth-and-long situation. Both times, Schumacher targeted Pulsipher in the Oakley secondary. Both times, Pulsipher knocked the ball away, the second of which sealed a Hornets win.

Perhaps the coolest moment of a game filled with them came at the end, though. Senior quarterback Tate Cranney, who had been told his Oakley career was over after numerous injuries to his right leg, was sent out to take a knee to run out the final seconds.

Oakley head coach Kade Craner gets emotional when discussing what Cranney meant to his program, and said he had the senior take the final snap because he didn’t want Cranney’s last memory on a football field to be the time he was being carried off it, injured.

With all the emotion involved, the gleeful celebrations of the Oakley players demonstrated just how much the victory meant to them. Their season wasn’t over, as a state championship game loomed the following week, but there was no doubt the victory over Prairie will remain one of the most memorable wins for those Hornet players.

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