Orange's big defensive play lifts Wolves into second round
With the game in doubt, senior Demetress Beavers challenged teammate and junior Jaylon Orange to make a big defensive play.
Orange responded by stripping the football from Sapulpa tailback Cayden Willingham and returning it 12 yards for the touchdown to tie the game at 34 with 32 seconds to go. Ian Johnson kicked the extra point which made the difference as the Shawnee Wolves came away with a pulsating 35-34 victory over the Chieftains in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs Friday night at Jim Thorpe Stadium.
The game appeared to be in doubt when Shawnee, behind by a 34-28 count, drove all the way to the Sapulpa 20-yard line. The ball was placed on the 20 after a 15-yard pass interference penalty on the Chieftains. On first down, quarterback Karsen Conaway's pass was picked off in the end zone near the goal line with 51 seconds left for a touchback.
The Wolves, with three timeouts left, stuffed Sapulpa for a 1-yard loss on first down and then a 4-yard loss on second down to set up a third-and-15 situation. Quarterback Zac Mason took the snap and handed the ball to Willingham, who tried to scramble out of the backfield and was stripped of the ball by Orange, who picked it up and raced into end zone.
“Beavers told me during the timeout (before the play) that I needed to make the play. I needed a strip,” said Orange. “I saw (Willingham) kind of stumbling. I kept him up so I could strip the ball out. He put the ball on his hip and it was kind of wobbling, so I knew there was a chance to grab it.”
Orange says he forced a big fumble in a victory over Muskogee as a sophomore in 2019, but Friday's play was perhaps the biggest.
“It was a bigger stage and more was at stake,” Orange said.
That wasn't the end of Orange's big plays on the night. Orange intercepted a desperation pass by Mason at the goal line as time ran out, clinching the contest for Shawnee which evened its season record at 5-5 and will play at Collinsville Friday in the second round.
“We didn't execute perfectly in any phase, but we did enough in all three phases...barely enough but enough,” said Shawnee head coach Jason Sexton. “I'm proud of our kids and their ability to make something special happen. With tears in their eyes, they made the biggest plays of their life.”
Orange not only made big plays on defense, but also had a 6-yard TD run as he finished with 58 yards on 15 carries. Beavers was the Wolves' top rusher with 79 yards on 14 attempts as he scored off a 1-yard run. Orange also caught two passes for 19 yards and Beavers had three grabs for 28 yards.
“Jaylon did some good things defensively and made two of the biggest plays to keep our season going,” Sexton said. “He's a great competitor. We worked all week on stripping the ball. They worked hard and to see them put it together is gratifying.”
The Wolves scored two first-half touchdowns through the air in settling for a 14-14 halftime tie.
Shawnee got on the board first with a little trickery. The Wolves got as far as the Sapulpa 20-yard line, but were eventually pushed back eight yards to the 20. Shawnee brought on the field-goal unit, but perfectly executed a fake as Karran Evans hooked up with Joe Maytubby for the 20-yard scoring pass with 3:32 to go in the opening quarter. Johnson tacked on the PAT.
The Wolves maintained that advantage until Mason connected with Wyatt Hall on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 3:31 left before halftime. Eli Tobar's extra-point kick knotted the game at 7-all.
Shawnee quickly marched 68 yards in nine plays as Evans was on the receiving end of TD pass this time from Conaway on a 28-yarder with 2:57 to go before the break. Orange netted 34 yards on five carries on the series and Conaway passed to Zane Christopher for a 6-yarder to set up the touchdown two plays later.
But a huge 47-yard kickoff return by the Chieftains' D'Angelo Mitchell set the stage for a 14-14 deadlock at halftime. Mason scored off a 1-yard keeper and Tobar's kick tied it with 1:18 left before intermission.
On its first series of the second half, Sapulpa took the lead for the first time on a Mason pass to Colton Morton for a score with 7:52 to go in the third. Tobar's PAT made it 21-14 after the Chieftains drove 54 yards in five plays and were helped by two Shawnee penalties.
However, the Wolves responded on their next drive, going 71 yards in eight plays with Orange scoring from six yards away with 3:38 remaining in the third. Beavers carried the ball five times for 21 yards on the series and the big play set up the TD when Conaway passed to Orange on a 12-yarder down to the 6-yard line. Johnson's ensuing extra-point kick made it 21-all.
But Sapulpa retaliated thanks to another long kick return of 47 yards, this time by Tyreese Jones down to the Shawnee 32-yard line. With the help of another Wolves' penalty, the Chieftains scored in five plays with Willingham crossing the goal line from seven yards out with 1:31 left in the third.
The Wolves then went on 61-yard, 11-play drive with Beavers scoring from a yard out with 6:32 remaining. Beavers had a 17-yard sprint up the gut to the Sapulpa 44 and Conaway passed to Evans for a 24-yard gain down to the Chieftain 13. Beavers had actually ripped off an apparent 15-yard TD run on the previous play, but it was called back due to a penalty. After Beaver's touchdown run, Johnson added the PAT to tie it at 28-28.
Sapulpa, with the help of four more Wolves' penalties, went up 34-28 as Willingham scored on a 2-yard run with 2:53 remaining. However, the extra point was missed, leaving an opening for Shawnee.
The Wolves came up empty after the interception with 51 seconds left, but got the heroic strip and touchdown from Orange.
For Sexton, who is in his first season as Shawnee's head coach, it will go down as one of the most memorable.
“One time in one of our state championship games at Carl Albert (as an assistant in 1993), we beat Bixby on the last play of the game,” said Sexton. “It's definitely one of the two most exciting games in my life as far as it being in big-play, miracle fashion. I'm so proud of our kids and the fight they've shown this year.”
The penalty bug bit Shawnee big time in the game as the Wolves were whistled for 16 penalties for 140 yards.
Conaway was 13-of-20 passing for 186 yards and the one TD with one interception. Evans had 95 yards receiving on four catches with the one score. Joe Maytubby had three receptions for 32 yards and the touchdown. Zane Christopher added two receptions for 24 yards.
For Sapulpa, Willingham ended up with 74 yards on 19 carries and the two touchdowns and Mason was 9-of-18 passing for 112 yards and the two scores.