Plenty of fight left in the Dogs

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: November 14, 2015 - 12:35 AM

Facing a fourth-and-3 and trying to hold on to a 22-14 lead against a hard-charging Maryville team in its Class 3 state quarterfinal game Friday night, Odessa reach into its bag of tricks.

Less than 6 minutes remained in the game, the Bulldogs were on the Spoofhound 27-yard line and offensive coordinator Benny Palmer put the ball in the hands of his star running back Kobe Hardin and gave him a choice.

“We needed 3 yards, so I was going to run if I thought I could get it,” Hardin said. “I saw that I wasn’t and (Austin) Wilson made a great cut to get open and I just led him.”

Hardin’s halfback pass connection with Wilson went for 23 yards and on the very next play he sealed the victory with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 28-14 final score, advancing the Bulldogs to the state semifinals.

“Sometimes you have to take some chances in those situations against good teams,” Odessa head coach Mark Thomas said. “We needed to convert that first down.”

Thomas credited Palmer with the play-call, a play that he said Maryville played pretty well.

“We expected the wide receiver to come out wide open, but their defensive back did a good job and he (Wilson) had to convert the route. Kobe had to hold it,” he said. “They improvised that on their own. They’ve got a little bond on that play.”

The play and subsequent touchdown with 5:20 left to play let the Bulldogs breathe a small sigh of relief as the Spoofhounds had cut into what was a 22-0 lead.

“Some people might have been worried with how we’d react but we reacted well,” Hardin said. “We had confidence we were going to win.”

It was another impressive start for the Bulldogs, a week after jumping out to a 21-0 lead against Oak Grove. Hardin scored the first points of the game on a 20-yard run and the next two scores came with the benefit of excellent field position.

A high snap on a Maryville punt led to a partially blocked kick that put the Bulldogs on the Spoofhound 34. Ty Wagner hooked up with Josiah Bennett for 32 yards on the very next play before Hardin scored from 2 yards out for a 14-0 lead.

Two drives later, with Maryville pinned inside its own 15, a bad punt gave Odessa the ball on the Spoofhound 33. Three straight Hardin runs put the ball on the 11, setting up a nice play-action pass to a wide open Luke Tripp for a 22-0 lead after the two-point conversion.

“Anytime you play a team like this you have to score in those situations,” Hardin said of the good field position.

Meanwhile, the defense was shutting down a Maryville offense that had scored less than 35 points only once all season. But Thomas knew a counterpunch was coming from the Spoofhounds in the second half.

The Odessa defense did start to show some cracks in the second half but still came up with a big turnover on downs and recovered a pair of fumbles, the first of which came on the opening drive of the second half and happened inside its own 10-yard line.

“We have something we call our 2-yard line attitude,” linebacker Cameron Ellis said. “When we get in situations like that we use that attitude to be aggressive and not give up. … We played a hard, physical game. We ran to the ball and had good pursuit.”

Maryville would score on its next possession to make it 22-6, but were stonewalled on fourth-and-12 the next time they got the ball.

The next drive also resulted in a score to make it 22-14 before the Bulldog offense stretched the lead back to two touchdowns.

The icing on the cake came on Maryville’s next drive, as they were moving the ball before another fumble recovered by Odessa all but put the game away.

“The turnovers - one of the things we talked to the kids about was playing a very physical against them,” Thomas said. “We hadn’t seen anybody go right at them. We weren’t going to change our ways. The kids weren’t in awe or intimidated at all. The moment wasn’t too big for them.”

Maryville’s (12-1) climb back to the top of the state rankings this season came with very few challenges up until this showdown with the Bulldogs, as they faced a similar ending to the season as last year when Oak Grove gave them their first loss in the quarterfinals.

Now, Odessa will look to do the same thing Oak Grove did and get two more wins for a state title. As good as beating the No. 1 team in the state was Friday night, it’s back to work and time to refocus after tonight.

“That will be the conversation tomorrow,” Thomas said. “We still have two more games. We’re not finished. We have to finish the deal.”