Special to the Grove Sun
AFTON — Neither Barnsdall nor the weather could slow down fifth-ranked Afton.
The Eagles exploded for 21 points in the first quarter — despite coming up empty on their first two possessions — and sloshed to a 54-0 victory in their first-round Class A playoff game.
“Other than our first drive when we fizzled out and couldn’t score from the 1, we executed well in all phases,” Afton head coach Zach Gardner said. “I think they were out to prove a point tonight. Everybody had us picked to win big, and we did.”
The win was the 11th straight for the Eagles, but more importantly, it sent them into the second round of post-season play for the first time since 2004.
They’ll host Stratford, which blasted Quinton 40-0 in another first-round game Friday night.
“It’s nice to be able to play at home again next week,” Gardner said. “It’s a first for myself and for Afton in a while. It’s been a couple of years since they did it (2006).”
The Eagles had lost in the first round in 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2005.
In ’06, Afton beat Gore 29-19 in the first round but lost to Crescent 55-16.
The victory also matched the school record for most wins in a season, first set by the 1978 Eagles of Mike Cole.
Barnsdall — which had won two games all season yet made it to the playoffs — fizzled in the wet conditions, managing only 57 net yards.
The Panthers were 8 yards in the hole rushing in the first half. It’s only positive yardage came on passing, where it got 37 yards.
Barnsdall’s only pass attempt in the second half was intercepted on the final play of the game.
Things got so bad that Panther head coach Marlon Houston opted to have the entire second half played with a running clock.
“They only had a couple of first downs (two total) the whole game,” Gardner said. “The defense played tremendous. We had the ‘pick 6’ early and had a blocked punt, which is how we got the first touchdown.”
Afton’s defense and special teams accounted for three of the Eagles’ touchdowns — all coming in the span of about seven minutes.
Cecil Jones recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for the Eagles’ first score at 5:40 of the opening frame, linebacker Zach Dotson went 30 yards with an interception as time expired in the first quarter and Dusty Henry ran a punt back 45 yards just 1:38 into the second period.
The PAT kick by Jacob Mustain created a 35-0 gap — and the rout was on.
The Eagles added three more scores in the half, including runs of 15 and 6 yards by Matt Wisdom and a 40-yard pass from Brennon Fuser to Mustain with just 45 seconds left in the half.
The only score in the second half was an impressive 55-yard romp by Wisdom two plays into the third quarter.
Thanks to the running clock, the teams ran only 28 plays over the final two periods — with Afton accounting for 19 of those. It ran only 42 plays all night thanks to its first-half fireworks.
The Eagles’ only possession of the second half ended at the Barnsdall 9 when a fourth-and-2 play resulted in an 11-yard loss by backup quarterback Trevor Holland.
The Eagles gave Barnsdall’ punting game fits all night, mainly via the block for a TD and Henry’s return.
Freshman Marlon Houston, who handled the Panthers’ punting, only 22.5 yards on six attempts.
“We were blocking the up-backs into the punter,” Gardner said. “We prepared for it and that’s what they gave us.”
Despite the soggy conditions, the Eagles had only three fumbles, and they got all three back.
“We didn’t do anything to hurt ourselves with the wet conditions,” Gardner said.
Wisdom went over the 100-yard mark for the eighth time in 11 games. His 55-yard romp in the third quarter — he touched the ball only twice in the second half and 10 times all night — pushed his game total to 121 yards.
Fuser completed seven of his 10 pass attempts for 122 yards and the one score.