What Steve said: Steve Bubalo 9/24

Steve Bubalo

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 24, 2015 - 10:04 AM

The Odessa-Oak Grove rivalry goes back more than 100 years, and I can only imagine how many of those games were memorable to those on the field and in the stands at the time.

But I do know one thing – you can add this past Friday’s game to the list.

On a night with a number of fantastic games in the area, Odessa’s 21-14 victory in the final seconds may have been the best. This one had everything you love about high school sports: a long-running rivalry, back-and-forth scoring, some trash talk here and there, a wild finish and an underdog story.

And that’s where the Bulldogs come in.

Odessa has been steadily improving under head coach Mark Thomas. In his first year, they were 2-8, including a 61-0 loss to the Panthers. Year two saw progress in the form of a 7-4 mark, which has seemed to carry over into this season as they currently sit at 5-0.

But Thomas talked about how that signature win was lacking. If the Bulldogs wanted respect, they had to go out and make it happen on the field. That’s another reason Friday night’s win felt so big.

Not only had Odessa not beaten Oak Grove since 2010 – not to mention that the Panthers are the defending Class 3 state champions and were ranked No. 2 coming into the game – but the Bulldogs were in search of that respect. They talked openly about wanting to make a statement.

I could tell by the way they played. The energy they had. The confidence they showed. Really, both sidelines had it, but guys like Kobe Hardin and Austin Weygandt stand out to me as I look back on the game.

Both Odessa running backs had some tough-as-nails third-down runs on which they were stopped short of the sticks, only to fight for those extra yards. It seemed to grow as the game wore on and the Bulldogs showed they weren’t going anywhere.

In fact, that confidence was what stood out most to Thomas.

"We believed we could play with them and beat them,” he said. "That’s probably the biggest element that helped us get over the hump. We fought the entire 48 minutes.”

And it got people to take notice.

Ty Wagner and Josiah Bennett, the quarterback and wide receiver duo that hooked up for the game-winning touchdown, talked afterward about Thomas giving the team a chip on their shoulder to play with. Each week when the new state rankings came out, as the Bulldogs continued to win big, they were left off. Thomas let them know.

Whether that was a motivating tactic or Thomas feeling his team was truly being ignored may never be known, but he won’t have to do it anymore after the Bulldogs came in at No. 6 in the latest Class 3 state rankings.

It all added up to an emotional night for the Bulldog faithful. No one on that team had beaten he Panthers. Bennett admitted to having tears in his eyes as he was getting ready to cross the goal line on the game-winning 36-yard touchdown pass from Wagner. Thomas appeared to be emotional afterward when talking about his team and the work they put in to make that win happen.

They earned it. No doubt about it. Odessa is a really good football team. In fact, Oak Grove is a really good football team, too.

Sign me up for the playoff rematch.