By JIMMY STINSON
MUSKOGEE — After last week’s controversial loss to Locust Grove, some questioned if the Hilldale Hornets would be able to bounce back strong or look past this week’s opponent to a tougher and more critical week nine matchup against Sequoyah.
Those concerns were unwarranted as the Hornets pounded the Keys Cougars 54-20 in District 3A-7 action at Hornet Field.
The win sets up next week’s battle with Sequoyah that will carry significant implications for playoff seeding in the district.
“Never overlook anybody, anyone can beat you on any given day,” said Hornet defensive end Justin Sanders after the contest. “You have to come out and give 100 percent and that’s what we did.”
The Hornets were able to wash the bad taste out of their mouths after last week’s game and did it in convincing fashion. Hilldale (6-2,3-1) held Keys (1-7,1-3) to a negative six yards rushing in the first half, forced a fumble, and the Hornets’ Matt Bargsten returned an interception for a touchdown in building a 48-0 halftime lead, holding Keys without a first down in the process.
Linebacker Jake Adams echoed Sanders’ comments.
“Coach said they are better than their record and we focused on that and played them like they were any other team," he said.
Hilldale took the opening kick and put together an impressive six-play 55-yard drive that consisted of running by Hunter Woods and Chandler Puckett, along with passing by Puckett. Puckett hooked up with Bradley Campbell for 11 yards and Bargsten for 25 yards. Woods took over on three consecutive carries, the last for a one-yard score. Puckett found Dakota Holmes on the two-point conversion to put the Hornets up 8-0.
Keys’ first possession lasted exactly one play. Defensive end C.J. Hunnicutt blasted through the line and sacked Keys quarterback Dillon Stratton, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Seth Reheard at the Cougar 9. Woods found the end zone on a 9-yard carry and pushed the lead to 14-0.
Things only got worse for Keys on their next possession. After a four-yard loss and a false start penalty, Stratton’s pass attempt was intercepted by Bargsten, who zigged and zagged through the Cougars for a 25-yard return for the touchdown. The two-point conversion failed but the lead ballooned to 20-0 with 8:29 left in the first quarter.
Hilldale would make it 3-for-3 on scoring drives. Reheard ran for seven yards, Puckett hooked up with Campbell for 18 yards and again for a 20-yard touchdown score and with Puckett’s extra point kick, Hilldale’s lead reached 27-0.
The Hornets’ last score of the first quarter came on an impressive scramble by Puckett. Dropping back to pass, Puckett saw pressure from his right, scrambled left and raced 26 yards for the score. His extra point brought the lead to 34-0.
The last two drives of the half for Hilldale were long, time-consuming drives that took the last of the wind out of the Cougars. A 12-play, 59-yard drive was capped by a five-yard run by Reheard, who accounted for 30 yards rushing on the drive. The last drive was an 11 play, 53-yard drive, that with the exception of a Puckett to Campbell pass for 14 yards, was all rushes. Sanders and Woods accounted for the rest of the yards with Woods scoring on a two yard jaunt and with Puckett’s kick the half ended with Hilldale in command at 48-0.
“Hat’s off to them, they have a good program and they are a good team,” said Keys head coach Gary Willis, whose team starts more than half freshmen and sophomores. “They totally dominated the game. We are young but we will never make excuses.”
Hilldale head coach Chad Kirkhart was pleased with his team’s execution on both sides of the ball.
“We talked a lot about it all week long, don’t worry about anything that has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. I was really pleased with the way we played on both sides of the ball," he said.
None of Hilldale’s starters saw any action in the second half. Keys was able to put together three scoring drives in the second half. Stratton found Riley Light for a 10-yard score and Garrett Willis scored on a two-yard run. Seth Fritts scored on a 56-yard run. The Hornets added one last score on a 27-yard scamper by Dean Cochran.
Puckett finished the night with seven completions on eight attempts for 123 yards an a touchdown, while adding 28 yards on two carries for a touchdown. Woods had 65 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns, while Reheard added 42 yards on 11 carries and a score. Campbell led the Hornets in receiving, pulling down five catches for 77 yards and a score.
Hilldale travels to Tahlequah next Friday to take on Sequoyah, which lost its second 3A-7 game to Jay on Friday, while Keys travels to Jay next Friday. Depending on the Locust Grove-Lincoln Christian outcome next week, the Hornets could re-enter the 3A-7 title picture.