NOBLE – Just like they had all the game, Brandon Harper and the Bears knew exactly what was coming.
On the third try, Noble came up with a blitz on Cooper Park, and the El Reno quarterback could only handle a shaky pass straight into Harper’s hands. Harper grabbed him, looked up and saw nothing but grass in front of him.
“As soon as I saw (Park) leave, I just jumped the pass,” he recalls. “Then I knew it was the touchdown from there.”
The junior’s 45-yard pick-six – the Bears’ third touchdown in four minutes – extended their lead to 25-0 and put an exclamation mark on a scorching start to the second half. Noble (3-1, 1-0) didn’t look back, winning 46-21 over El Reno in their first District 5A-1 game.
As the Bears put up 40 points on the board for the third time in four games, the story at the start was defense. After a game in which they allowed Piedmont to rush for 471 yards, they held the Indians (0-4, 0-1) scoreless and just 85 yards in the first half.
For the game, Noble forced six El Reno three-and-outs and consistently penetrated the Indian offensive line, with Jackson Stewart, Tayvan Givens, Colton Hester and others coming in with tackles from behind the line of scrimmage.
El Reno, playing their first game since August 27 after losing two games to COVID-19, was a bit of an unknown entity. But nothing he did offensively took Noble by surprise.
“We knew what they were doing all the time,” Harper said. “They ran a lot of the same.”
The Bears were lucky for this defensive performance, as it coincided with an inconsistent first half in which they only found the end zone once. Noble’s mistakes ran the gamut from dropped passes and penalties to missed open receivers.
“We had nine drops tonight,” said coach Greg George. “We can’t throw the ball like we do and have nine drops. We have to correct all of this. We need to get out, focus, do what we need to do and play better. … We couldn’t find the rhythm.
Still, George was confident his team could start after halftime, as long as they cut back on their earlier mistakes.
Noble needed just three plays and 50 seconds to cover 70 yards and take a 13-0 lead on his first possession in the second period. Then came a kickoff from the dog that Trevor Rudd picked up – a “luck deal” according to George – which led to another touchdown. By the time Harper returned from touchdown, the Bears had found the rhythm they lacked.
“We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot,” said George. “In the second half, we were able to go out and play a few games. “
El Reno’s Mikey Devereaux broke a few long touchdown passes, and the Indians scored a late touchdown. But it didn’t live up to Noble’s offensive push.
Harper caught nine passes for 190 yards, including a 71-yard catch-and-run. Colin Thomas ran for 99 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Trevor Wardrip has scored twice. Despite a multitude of abandoned passes, Colin Fisher had 281 yards and two touchdowns, as well as one on the ground.
As Friday’s victory “felt like you were pulling teeth out all night,” in George’s words, Noble’s defense held the fort as long as it took. Going forward, the Bears will look to eliminate key mistakes in hopes of combining their defensive performance in the first half with their attacking performance in the second half.
“I think our sense of urgency needs to resume,” said George. “Everyone patted us on the back after Piedmont. It was a huge win and everyone pats us on the back, we start to read our press clippings and maybe we lost that chip on our shoulder a little bit. We need to get this chip back.
Noble will travel to Duncan next Friday. Demons are 1-3 and 0-1 in District 5A-1 play.