Black Diamonds see Cinderella season end with playoff loss to Blanchard
BLANCHARD — The Sallisaw Black Diamonds made the long trek to Blanchard for Class 4A quarterfinal playoff action on Friday night and quickly found themselves in a two-score hole after giving up an early interception. Unflustered, the Black Diamonds struck back with touchdown receptions from senior Max Stump and junior Cooper Cox to knot the score at 14-all and trailed only 21-14 at the break.
The District 4A-2 champion Lions dominated the second half of the contest to earn an eventual 55-28 win, but Sallisaw fought to the final whistle, scoring the contest’s final TD on a 44-yard Cole Stephens run inside the final three minutes.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Sallisaw coach Brandon Tyler said. “They fought all night long after nobody expected us to be here. This group was 1-19, 0-10 last year, and now here we are in the second round of the playoffs. They bought in, and we have loved on them. They deserved it after going through some hard times the last couple of years. I’m so proud of the way they practiced and the way they fought. I’m proud of everything they did this year.
“We came out and played well in the first half, but we just had too many turnovers. We knew going in that Blanchard lives off the turnover. They feed off that, and they do a great job defensively. Hats off to Coach [Jeff] Craig and his staff. They have a tremendous football team.”
The Black Diamonds (75) got another heroic effort from senior quarterback Brock Streun as he was briefly shaken up in the first half, then returned to throw for two touchdowns and run for another.
Junior Broque Oft was also clutch as he converted for big yardage on a fake punt and added a big kick return late. The Sallisaw defense recovered a pair of Blanchard fumbles, and junior Cole Mayfield contributed a diving interception in the first half.
Turnovers also proved to be the Black Diamonds’ undoing, however, as the Lions picked off four Streun tosses and got a huge strip on a Sallisaw kick return in the third quarter.
The Lions (11-1) drew first blood as they marched 80 yards on a mid-first quarter drive sparked by a 46-yard run from junior Vaughn McIntyre. A 2-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Carson Cooksey on fourth-and-goal capped the Blanchard drive and freshman Matt Campbell added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The Lions had the ball again seconds later after senior linebacker Tyler Hughes intercepted a Sallisaw first-down throw over the middle. Cooksey immediately went long to senior wideout Reagan Palmer to set up Blanchard inside the Sallisaw 5-yard line, and senior running back McHale Howell was across for the score on the next play for a 14-0 advantage.
The Black Diamonds faced fourth-and-18 on the ensuing drive, but rolled the dice with a perfectly executed fake punt that saw Oft sprint 42 yards to the Blanchard 27. Streun immediately capitalized on the new set of downs, lofting a perfect strike to Stump for the 27-yard touchdown pass. Junior Brian Castor’s extra point closed the gap to 14-7.
A fumbled punt return by Blanchard senior Terrance Johnson with eight minutes left before half set the Black Diamonds up in prime position again at the Blanchard 35. A trio of Streun keepers pushed the ball to the 22, then the senior QB dropped back and found Cox on fourth-and-7 for the TD to tie the ball game at 14all.
The Lions went to the ground game for an answering drive, fueled by punishing runs from Hughes. Cooksey found junior Brayson Carter for a clutch third-down reception, then kept for an 8-yard TD with just less than two minutes to go before half.
Sallisaw marched in answer, but saw the drive end on interception by Carter at the Blanchard 23.
Mayfield returned the favor moments later with a pick on third down to end the threat, but Blanchard junior Gage Ellison kept the turnover string going with an interception at midfield with 38 seconds to go. A wild first half finally drew to a close with a Blanchard incompletion in the Sallisaw end zone from 16 yards out on fourth down.
Cooksey opened the third quarter with a season-high 58-yard run to the Sallisaw 1, and McIntyre was in a play later for the TD and a 2814 Blanchard advantage. The Lions stripped the ball and recovered on the ensuing kickoff, and Cooksey delivered to Palmer to the Sallisaw 2. McIntyre’s second TD of the half (with a missed PAT) built the Blanchard lead to 34-14.
A Cooksey 34-yard completion to junior Hudsen Periman added another TD midway through the frame, but Sallisaw responded with a great kick return from Oft deep into Blanchard territory. A Blanchard personal foul moved the ball to the 15, and Streun pushed across from 13 yards out on second down to trim the lead to 41-21.
The Lions immediately rebuilt the lead, however, as Howell shot 64 yards to paydirt on the first play after the short kickoff. Howell added another score on a 2-yard run late in the fourth quarter before Stephens responded to cap an outstanding Black Diamond season with the long TD.