Bulldogs get defining win

Stephen Bubalo/PrepsKC

By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 19, 2015 - 12:57 AM

As Odessa kept mowing through opponents with ease this season, cruising to a 4-0 record, they kept an eye on those state rankings. And each week, the Bulldogs were left off.

They realized they needed to open some eyes. They needed to get that statement win, a win that would make people sit up and take notice.

They did just that Friday night.

The Bulldogs improved to 5-0 by defeating rival, previously unbeaten and second-ranked Oak Grove on its home field Friday night in thrilling fashion, 21-14.

"This is huge for our program,” wide receiver Josiah Bennett said. "We kept not getting any votes (in the state rankings). Coach was putting that chip on our shoulder.”

An emotional Mark Thomas, Bulldog head coach, echoed that statement after the victory.

"I’m in the middle of my third year here and I keep telling the kids, we’ve got to go beat somebody that outsiders don’t think we can beat,” Thomas said. "The kids stepped up when they needed to.”

The game-winning drive started with just 46 seconds left in the game and the Bulldogs needing to go 60 yards for a score. Sandwiched around an incompletion, quarterback Ty Wagner had a pair of 12-yard completions to get things going before Thomas elected to use the team’s final timeout.

The one incompletion on the drive was to Bennett, who stands at 6-feet-7 inches tall, a matchup nightmare. Wagner had taken several shots throughout the game down the field to Bennett with varying success, but with the game on the line, the pair hooked up one last time for a 36-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 10 seconds left.

"He has so much faith in me,” Bennett said of Wagner. "I love this kid. We’ve been playing together since we were little, ever since 3rd grade. … (The cornerback) slipped and fell. It was a heck of a throw."

"Someone told me once that in big moments, players make big plays,” Wagner said. "Before that drive started, I realized that I had to go make a big play.”

The touchdown sealed the school’s first win over Oak Grove since 2010, something that clearly resonated with both seniors and their coach.

"I had tears in my eyes at the 5-yard line when I caught it,” Bennett said.

Added Thomas, "We had taken shots several times (to Bennett). Maybe it was fate. I don’t know. We’ve practiced and prepared them for this. They believed in it. They believed it was our time."

Neither team held anything back on this night. It was slugfest from the first play.

Oak Grove took a 7-6 lead into the half and appeared to have the first momentum-changing play in the second half as punter Scott Jones rumbled 18 yards on a fake punt to put the Panthers deep in Bulldog territory.

But the drive would stall and a botched snap on a field goal attempt gave Odessa the ball back. The bad snap was a microcosm of the game for the Panthers, who also had a pair of turnovers in Odessa territory - one inside the 5-yard line - and a host of damaging penalties.

"We made a lot of mistakes. But credit Odessa, they forced a lot of those mistakes,” Oak Grove head coach Pat Richard said. "We did a great job executing for the most part, but then we’d make a mental mistake - a holding call or a fumble. We did things we typically don’t do.”

After the botched field goal attempt, Odessa would take the lead, as Wagner and Bennett hooked up from 9 yards out to go up 14-7. The Panthers came right back and tied things up on a Jake Harrenstien touchdown run.

But the Bulldog defense would recover for a huge stop. After the offenses ensuing drive stalled on the Panther 29, with just 2:30 left to play, the defense forced a three-and-out to get the offense the ball back for the eventual game-winning drive.

"We had to get our heads back up,” Bennett said of the defense. "We don’t get down. We keep pushing, keep pushing. It was back to 0-0.”

That mindset would wind up paying off.

It’s a similar frame-of-mind Richard hopes his team will take after his team’s first loss in its last 13 games.

"I’m proud of the way we played, our effort,” Richard said. "I think we’ll learn more about ourselves and it’ll make us a better football team coming out of this game.”

Meanwhile, shouts of this being a statement game were heard from the Bulldogs. Whatever doubters were out there, they’re probably few and far between now.

"We had to make a statement,” Wagner said. "We had to make people believe.”