OAKLEY — Time and time again, the Oakley High School football team put its defense in precarious positions against a very good Challis squad Friday night. With their backs against the wall, the Hornets kept coming up big. It was like watching a superhero movie where the masked protagonist faces overwhelming odds, but somehow comes out on top, albeit battered and beaten.
Somebody get these Hornets some capes.
In a defensive slugfest at Oakley High School on Friday night, the top-ranked Hornets overcame four turnovers and fought their way to a 22-18 Snake River Conference victory over No. 4 Challis. Both teams scored three touchdowns, but the Hornets notched a pair of PAT scores that ended up being the difference.
“That was pretty ugly on our part,” said Oakley junior Josh Nyman. “Our coach told us it was going to be a war up front, and it was. We figured if we could buckle down, play defense and be aggressive, we could win.”
Part of the reason Oakley’s defense was on the field so much — often with little ground available to yield — was because its offense fumbled the ball eight times on the night, losing three of them. The Hornets also had a punt blocked in the first half. Against a solid team such as the Vikings, ball protection is key.
“We weren’t happy with our offensive performance tonight,” said Oakley senior quarterback Tate Cranney. “We need to go back to the drawing board, and I think with time it will start to click.”
But the Hornet defense was up for the challenge. Led by a nasty front three and a hard-hitting group of linebackers, Oakley got pressure on Challis quarterback Ross Sheppard all night. The Hornets sacked him seven times in the first half.
“We have a pretty stout D-line,” Oakley head coach Kade Craner said. “They like to get to the quarterback. With the offense Challis runs, we get to do that a little bit. We game-planned that tonight. Their quarterback is a good player, and we knew we needed to get to him and rattle him a little bit.”
And even when the Vikings got a positive play, Austin “Ozzy” Bedke and Travis Barnard were there to bring the pain. Pads were popping all over the field.
Cranney scored the first touchdown of the game when he took a keeper up the right sideline and found the end zone from 54 yards out. Oakley went up 6-0 late in the first quarter.
But Challis answered when Sheppard, facing third and 37 from his own 12-yard line, found Parker May on the left sideline. The senior receiver went 88 yards to tie the score at 6-6.
Turnovers were exchanged before Cranney scored again, this time on a keeper up the middle from nine yards out. He then hit junior Chandler Jones with a pass to make the score 14-6, Oakley on top, which is what the scoreboard read at halftime.
Challis struck again early in the third period when Sheppard once again found May on a deep pass. The Hornets’ lead was cut to 14-12, but they lost a big piece of their team when Chandler went down on the play and was carried off the field.
Chandler was replaced by Nyman, who came in and didn’t miss a beat. In the fourth quarter, Nyman intercepted a Sheppard pass and took it to the house, increasing Oakley’s lead to 22-12 with just over 11 minutes to play.
Challis’ Mitch Cotant later scored a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but, once again, the Hornet defense held strong on the two-point conversion attempt.
Oakley took possession and moved down the field, burning clock along the way. The drive fizzled deep in its own zone, but Challis got the ball back on its own 9-yard line with 1:53 to play.
Time for the Hornet defense to save the day.
Did it ever. Even after Cranney left the game with an injury, Oakley stood strong and forced three straight incompletions to end the Viking threat.
A jubilant — and relieved — horde of Hornets stormed the field to celebrate the fourth victory of the season.
“We played big. We played Oakley football,” Cranney said. “That was a really good opponent over there, and we happened to come out on top. It could have gone the other way, but we stepped up.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Oakley (4-0) as the Hornets travel to No. 2 Valley (3-0) on Friday.
“We have to clean up a lot of our stuff,” Nyman said. “We were pretty messy on offense, fumbling the ball a lot. We have to keep our heads in the game and play Oakley football.”
“That will be an epic tilt,” Craner said. “We’ll play with the guys we have next week.”